Sidmouth footpath 17 - illegal obstruction and/or diversion by Sidmouth FolkWeek?

FP at 45 Higher Woolbrook 1.jpg (26299 bytes)

FP gate to festival field 1.jpg (41445 bytes)

FP post Ice House Lane 1.jpg (42113 bytes)

FP Post in field near gate 1.jpg (29961 bytes)

FP start of path 1.jpg (43601 bytes)

For many years Sidmouth Festival has made use of two adjacent camping fields.

A well signposted public footpath runs through one of them. This gives rise to a number of legal issues, including the right to walk on a public footpath night or day and without being questioned or impeded - all assuming there is no formal closure notice in force.

In July 2011 Devon County Council Highways Dept (in the person of Richard Spurway) assured me that he had undertakings from the festival management that they would obey the law and not impede foot traffic along this footpath. My only interest (as I explained to him) was obtaining access to obtain further photographs of dangerously parked caravans and other Health and Safety matters. In the event I didn't bother, I spent 70 hours in dance venues instead.

The legal position appears to be interesting - unless a footpath is closed and closure notice posted at each end, anyone can walk along the path at any time of day or night and stray a reasonable distance from it. Only the landowner may have any right to question such trespass - which itself is normally a civil and not a criminal matter.

The above link contains the following text:

The problem is that if someone is trespassing, they are unlikely to comply with a polite request to leave, and if they then do not, the landowner has little if any further recourse. Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows the senior police officer attending the scene of an incident involving a trespass or nuisance on land to order trespassers to leave the land and to remove their vehicles as soon as reasonably practicable. The power can only be used when there are two or more people there and "are present there with the common purpose of residing there for any period, [and] that reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave" and either the trespassers have six or more vehicles between them, or they have caused damage to the land or to property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour - or both. So really it's not likely to cover anything other than a major invasion.

Which leads to the interesting question - once people are on the campsite, having entered that parcel of land quite legally but strayed from the footpath a little (or a lot), do festival organisers (or indeed the landowner) actually have a legal right to remove them without a court order? And what about campsites without a public footpath? It is notoriously difficult to remove squatters and gypsies from buildings and/or land, although the law may change soon. Also, the security 'goons' employed by festivals may not have any legal right to remove people from any land.

The festival could apply for a footpath closure notice under the proper procedures and this can be granted for up to 21 days under the relevant legislation (Highways Act) - the DCC form stating a maximum of 3 days was designed apparently for events at Powderham Castle.

Footpath 17 is shown in purple, crossing the first camping field. The unmade path = Path (um) curves to the north east and is used by dog walkers and other local people. But the formal footpath along which there are full legal rights of access is the purple line - and in 2011 there were motorhomes and tents all over it - and all over the Path(um)! So much for obeying the law, having (so I was told) given assurances to DCC that the footpath would not be obstructed. There was a diversion in place - but even that requires authority.

footpath17 scale 1 to 2000.jpg (274404 bytes)

sidmouth legal roads.jpg (56634 bytes) In the Sidmouth FolkWeek programme (available online) there is a plea from FolkWeek Management to campervan owners to obey relevant legislation.

Maybe the festival could obey relevant legislation relating to public footpaths?

Or better still, erect a fence to the south-west of the footpath, allowing local people full and free access over the footpath and adjoining land to the north east?

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