AN MP has proposed a new law to tackle travellers who refuse to leave private land unless the owners hand over thousands of pounds ­— in the wake of last year’s invasion of Thwaites’ brewery site in Blackburn.

In May last year, more than 100 travellers descended on the site, on Penny Street, and set up an encampment, demanding £20,000 to leave.

When the company’s boss Rick Bailey did not pay, they trashed the brewery causing £350,000 of damage and forcing its early closure as the company prepared to move to a new home in the Ribble Valley.

On Wednesday, Labour MP Toby Perkins, who has seen similar incidents in his Chesterfield constituency, called for legislation to make it a specific criminal offence to demand cash to vacate an unauthorised encampment.

He said some travellers had exploited landowners and businesses by demanding large sums of money to move from private land.

Cllr Jim Smith, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s environment boss and the town’s MP Kate Hollern, said they supported a new law.

Mr Perkins told the House of Commons: “In doing research for the introduction of my Bill, I learned of the case of Thwaites brewery in Blackburn.

“A group of 20 caravans arrived on site, ultimately costing about £350,000 in damage and stolen goods. The travellers made financial demands, in this case asking for £20,000 to leave the site.

“In that case, the police eventually — and uniquely, as far as I have been able to establish — prosecuted the travellers for the offence of blackmail alongside the criminal damage prosecution.”

Cllr Smith said: “I support this bill 100 per cent. The events at Thwaites last year show that one of the motives for the travellers’ invasion of the brewery was blackmail.”

Mrs Hollern said: “I share Tony’s concerns. There should be an additional offence related to financial demands.”

Mr Perkins' Unauthorised Encampments Bill, which has cross-party support, is unlikely to become law in its current form but could prompt the government to legislate.

In February three men and a 17-year-old boy were convicted of offences including blackmail connected with the Thwaites invasion. Two adults were jailed for a total of eight years but a third man is till be hunted by police.