THE leader of Brentwood Council has defended his role in the removal of travellers from a site in Herongate after coming under fire from its parish council.

Leader Barry Aspinell and his administration were criticised by Tory councillor Sheila Murphy for not acting quickly enough when travellers moved onto Button Common earlier this month.

The group left after five days, by which time mess was left and memorial trees were pulled up.

Mrs Murphy said serious questions had to be asked of Mr Aspinell for his silence on the topic.

Mr Aspinall though, a Lib Dem, said the land in question was privately owned, so his hands were tied.

He said: “As a council have to go to court to have a removal notice served, but because the land is private we need the land owner’s permission. We finally got it but then had to wait the weekend for the courts to open to get the permission to serve it.

“Police were called over the weekend because of reports of vandalism and people were frightened for their property.”

Mr Aspinell added it was once the travellers had left they noticed the tree were vandalised, which is the real reason they were upset.

He said: “We are totally and utterly legally powerless to do more than we have done. I now plan to meet the chairs of each parish.

“What I would like to do is see if land owners would give us written permission we can keep here so it’s readily available for us to take action. This would stop days and days of waiting.”

Mrs Murphy though wasn’t impressed. She said: “The police were called out numerous times to deal with disturbance and unrest. Under their own powers, they could have used what is called a Section 61 to move the travellers on as they were causing a nuisance.

“As council Leader, Barry should have been speaking to them and encouraging them to use these powers to move the travellers sooner but as ever, when it matters, we heard nothing from him."