TRAVELLERS who set up unauthorised camps could be jailed for the first time under radical plans unveiled by ministers yesterday.

Currently they can only be dealt with through trespassing laws, which is a civil matter.

But Home Secretary Sajid Javid has now launched a review that will consider making it a criminal offence to set up illegal camps.

And police will also be given sweeping new powers to close traveller sites. Mr Javid said unauthorised camps can cause settled communities “significant distress”.

As of July last year there were 22,662 traveller caravans in England, according to government figures. Some 86 per cent were on authorised land, while the remaining 3,000 are on unauthorised sites.

Currently police can only step in to ask travellers to move on if there are at least six vehicles on the site. But under the new plans this threshold will lower to just two vehicles.

The authorities will also be allowed to direct travellers to legal sites in neighbouring council areas.

Currently they can only be moved to legal sites within the same local authority. Police would also be able to remove trespassers from land that forms part of the highway under the proposals.

There would be an increase in the period of time in which trespassers directed from land would be unable to return from three months to 12 months.

Councils will also be given extra funding to enforce planning rules to stop unauthorised sites rapidly expanding.

Local authorities have also been ordered to work together to coordinate and plan suitable legal sites so they reduce the risk of illegal camps springing up across the country.

The joint announcement from Mr Javid and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire comes after a lengthy consultation into Britain’s Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities.

Mr Brokenshire said they had heard accounts of “needless and unacceptable noise, abusive and threatening behaviour and extensive litter and waste from illegal traveller sites” during their consultation.

And Mr Javid said the majority of respondents called on the Government to consider criminalising unauthorised encampments, as has been done in Ireland.

Alongside the new reforms is a £250,000 pot of money to help communities tackle discrimination against the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities.

Announcing the crackdown yesterday Mr Javid said: “The vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens – but illegal sites often give an unfair, negative image of their community and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby.

“There is a widespread perception that the law does not apply to travellers and that is deeply troubling.

“The result of our initial consultation was clear – people want to see greater protection for local communities and for the police to be given greater power to crack down on trespassers.”