Removing travellers from illegal camps is costing the council thousands of pounds every year in legal costs, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Sutton Council has removed travellers from illegal camps in Beddington Park, Mellows Park, High Street Carshalton Car Park, Roundshaw Park and Cheam Resource Centre on 14 occasions since May at a cost of more than £4,000 in legal fees alone. Travellers were evicted from sites in Sutton five times in May and three times in four days in August.

The council spent £9,168 clearing 16 illegal encampments between May 2011 and May 2012 and £1,420 clearing seven camps the year before.

Councillor Jill Whitehead, chairwoman of the environment and neighbourhood committee said: "Each traveller encampment is different and has to be treated according to a number of issues including location, as different areas will have different protection.

"The council will use all relevant legislation to move on illegal encampments within a few days while meeting our safeguarding, welfare and legal obligations working with groups including legal officers, police, the courts, and the travellers themselves.

"There are several steps which every local authority has to take in these situations, including checking on the welfare of any children or vulnerable people involved. We are however, working proactively to prevent illegal camps being set up including the use of bollards for various parkland sites.

"We understand how frustrating these incidents can be for residents, which is why we always make full use of our powers to encourage illegally camped groups to move on.

"The legal process, which every council must use, does take a few days, so we are also looking at ways to discourage groups from setting up camps in parks in the first place."

Last year the council spent £4,800 at Roundshaw Park to stop encroachment from the Croydon side of the site and this year it spent more than £3,000 on soil banks at Mellows Park. 

Coun Whitehead added: "The council is required to make provision and respond to the needs of the travelling community but we recognise that some traveller activities can cause concern to local residents.

"Officers will offer advice to landowners who have suffered an encampment, and the local police offer crime prevention advice which would include making premises less susceptible to encampments."