Travellers camped in a car park over Christmas and the New Year have left it strewn with rubbish and rubble.

Train operator South Central had to hire four skips to clear up the mess at Brighton station car park.

Thirty travellers and gipsies moved into a corner of the car park just before Christmas and set up a settlement.

At first they were tolerated by railway staff and British Transport Police but, as the number of caravans and vehicles grew, the amount of mess increased.

When they left this week, the area was strewn with rubbish, black plastic bags, many of them split, discarded rubble, bits of vehicles and an abandoned car.

A South Central spokeswoman said: "This has been a regrettable affair. Staff have spent a day clearing up the car park. We have removed four skips full of rubbish.

"We are repairing the fencing and putting in stronger gates and other security measures."

Tory Brighton and Hove City councillor Geoffrey Theobald, who has called on the council to be tougher on travellers in the city, said it was worrying there had been problems in the first few days of 2002.

He said: "It is costing council tax payers thousands to deal with the travellers and this is all because the policies of this council have led them to regard the city as a soft touch.

"I don't want another year in which I get residents literally crying down the phone to me because they can't leave their homes because travellers are camped nearby.

"Those on the city council advocating policies which encourage travellers to this city should be forced to clear up the mess travellers leave behind."

The station car park is used for a regular Sunday market that would have had to be abandoned this weekend if the clean-up had not taken place.

Groups of travellers have moved on to the car park in the past, forcing the market to cut back the number of stallholders.