Eviction Day: Travellers put up barricades as police move in
A showdown between bailiffs and residents promises tense and angry scenes today as scores of families are evicted from the UK's biggest illegal travellers' site.
Hundreds of residents, bolstered by supporters, have barricaded themselves inside Dale Farm in Basildon, Essex.
They recently lost a decade-long legal fight over unauthorised development on the former scrapyard.
From 8am today teams of bailiffs are going to forcibly ejecting the travellers from the site.
Essex Police, whose officers will be joined by riot-trained colleagues from all over the country, will attend in strength to try to ensure the eviction is conducted peacefully.
Meanwhile, in London's High Court today elderly traveller Mary Flynn will get a final chance to challenge the clearance - but Basildon Council has said the hearing will not delay the start of the operation.
Last night Basildon Council leader Tony Ball said he was worried about the escalation of tensions after protesters apparently called off a last-minute meeting between officials and residents.
Councillor Tony Ball said: "We are very concerned by these latest developments and reports that so-called supporters appear to be calling the shots.
"We wanted to do everything possible to keep residents updated about the operation and to listen to any concerns and address any final requirements.
"It would appear that we now have no line of communication to the Dale Farm residents.
"We are very concerned that tension has increased and it may now make our job of clearing the site in a safe and orderly manner even more difficult."
Bailiffs from Constant and Company will have to make their way past reinforced barricades and a newly built wall to keep them out.
Half of the six-acre site, which has planning consent, will remain.
Resident Mary McCarthy said: "I don't intend to go anywhere, I'm staying here. I've faced constant evictions throughout my life and now I'm determined to stay put."
Many residents have temporarily moved caravans on to the neighbouring legal site. They say they do not want their children to face the bailiffs but insist they are not leaving permanently.
Kathryn Flynn, mother of three and resident at Dale Farm for 10 years, said: "I'm moving on to my uncle's yard on the other side for tonight because I don't want my children to go through this.
"I'm scared of what the bailiffs will do. They smash up our trailers - our homes. I don't want my children to be in danger, so we're moving them.
"But we've got nowhere to go after Monday. We don't know what's going to happen to us.
"Our children went to school for the last day on Friday. I don't know what to tell them about tomorrow."
Supporters, who refused to confirm the strength of their numbers, promised peaceful resistance.
Bailiffs yesterday put the finishing touches to a temporary compound to house them during the clearance and police set up camp on nearby farmland.
Simon Evans of Dale Farm Solidarity said it was untrue that the groups had refused to meet the council.
He added: "Travellers and supporters are very happy to meet at any time.
"Both the travellers and supporters merely insisted that the meeting take place outside the Dale Farm site."
In London, Mrs Flynn will argue before Lord Justice Pill that her poor health should have a bearing on the clearance.
The 72-year-old, who has been a crucial protagonist in the High Court battle, suffers from breathing problems.
Two protesters chained themselves to a barrel behind the gate at Dale Farm today to signal the start of peaceful resistance.
Dean, 29, and Emma, 18, handcuffed themselves to a pole concreted inside the barrel as a human barricade.
Lying on mattresses, the pair said they were prepared to stay as "long as it takes".
Dean said: "I have studied what's going on here long and hard and believe when the law is used for wrong, civil disobedience is the only way to oppose it.
"The idea is the bailiffs cannot open this gate without killing us both. We'll sleep here for weeks if we have to."
The clearance of 51 unauthorised plots, home to up to 400 people, on the six-acre site in Essex is due to start this morning following a decade-long planning row.
An estimated 200 supporters and residents remain on site.