THWAITES has backed a call for a new law to tackle travellers who refuse to leave private land unless the owners hand over thousands of pounds, after last year’s invasion of its brewery in Blackburn.

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

When the company did not pay, they trashed the brewery causing £350,000 of damage and forcing its early closure as the firm prepared to move to its new Ribble Valley home.

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

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

A spokesman for Thwaites said: “It’s a fundamental right for people to go to work and provide for their families.

“The law must not stand in the way of this.

“We support any measures that would stop any other business having to endure what we went through last year.”

Blackburn MP Kate Hollern, who has backed Mr Perkins' call for a new criminal offence, said: “No person has the right to demand money from another under threat of occupation, theft and criminal damage.”

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 still being hunted by police.

Mr Perkins’ Unauthorised Encampments Bill is unlikely to become law but could prompt the government to act.