Not Your Normal University Safety Concern

Security has been stepped up at a university campus after dozens of travellers set up an impromptu camp in the grounds.

A convoy of up to 20 caravans has descended on Heriot-Watt's Riccarton campus, where travellers have rigged up satellite dishes, washing lines and signs advertising their wares for sale.

The university is going to court in an effort to have them moved on in the coming days.

The caravans first arrived on Tuesday evening and parked up on grass about 200 yards from university teaching buildings and student accommodation.

Their camp covers land around the size of a football pitch.

Gangs of children as young as three were running and playing around the perimeter of the site when police were called in yesterday.

The travellers are understood to have refused requests to move on, forcing the university to turn to the law.

A range of cars are parked at the campsite, including a 4x4 and new-looking estate cars, with a mixture of UK and Republic of Ireland number plates.

The travellers had a mixture of Scots and Irish accents, but none approached by the Evening News were willing to speak.

One had put up a sign advertising "half price petrol powered windscreen washers" next to a trailer.

Police officers and council liaison officials approached the camp yesterday morning and were met by two barking dogs, before one traveller came out to meet them and led them into the camp.

University security staff looked on anxiously the whole time, only to be surprised by one traveller with a heavy Irish accent asking for directions to the nearest sweet shop.

A university spokeswoman said: "A group of caravans parked on an open area of the campus on Monday.

"We have been in communication with the council's travellers' site manager who has visited the site and also spoken to the university representatives.

"On his advice the university is taking legal action to remove the travellers, and we are hoping that the situation will be resolved quickly, hopefully within a matter of days."

An e-mail sent to staff at Heriot-Watt highlighted the anxieties of its security staff.

It said: "The police carried out a mobile campus patrol at 4.25am and security have had a vehicle and manned presence at Gait 4 junction (beside the campsite) all night. The latter will stay in place as long as required.

"Not suggesting anything untoward, but with this increase in people on campus it is vital all staff take extra precautions regarding security of their vehicles.

"All rooms must be secured at the end of a working day. If you are unsure of anyone within your respective building politely ask for ID - any problems contact security."

One member of staff, who did not want to give her name, said: "It makes the place feel really threatening when it's usually quiet and peaceful."

However, one local resident, who was jogging past the site, said: "They don't seem to be causing much of a problem and seem to be a peaceful group of people."

The university expects to get its court order within a few days which would be served immediately. The police are likely to be called in if they do not respond to the notice within a couple of days.

A police spokesman said: "We are aware of the situation but it goes no further than that just now."