Travellers win a reprieve at the 'Battle of Basildon'
Published 20/09/2011 | 05:00
IT was meant to be the climax of a decade-long saga.
Throughout the day the defenders of Dale Farm had been preparing for the attack, improving defences and shuttling ammunition -- bricks, water bombs and other missiles -- to the frontline.
They were like the inhabitants of some medieval fortress under siege, peering down from battlements made of scaffolding. All that was missing was the boiling oil.
Outside, the mighty horde gathered by Basildon Borough Council to clear Britain's biggest unauthorised Travellers' site awaited the order to advance.
Enforcement officers in helmets stood by, pencils sharpened, clipboards at the ready. Police gathered out of sight, ready to act as reinforcements for the council at a moment's notice. And all the time a helicopter hovered menacingly overhead, providing intelligence for the assault.
The tension rose until the air crackled with anticipation. And then. . . well, nothing really. This was 2011, not 1211, and you can't stage a decent battle these days without paying attention to health and safety.
So when the chap from the council arrived with his big megaphone, the message was slightly less than the blood-curdling "surrender or die" ultimatum expected.
"I have some major health and safety concerns that I wish to discuss with you," he thundered.
"That you have deliberately blocked and are, by your actions, obstructing the emergent access road.
"In the interests of health and safety is there anything that I can say or do that will persuade you to remove yourselves in an orderly manner?"
Not exactly Genghis Khan.
The answer came in the form of a water bomb, followed by the cry of: "Fascist!"
And that was it.
The clearance of Dale Farm, the so-called 'Battle of Basildon', was postponed last night following the granting of an eleventh-hour injunction by the high court in London.
The more-than 80 Irish Travelling families, who have made their home in the former scrap yard, characterised by Basildon council as some bucolic corner of the Essex green belt, can breathe easily for the time-being.
An operation costing £18m (€20.6m), which was criticised by the Council for Racial Equality and the United Nations, ended as a rather expensive damp squib.
The humiliating setback was the result of the council's failure to make its intentions towards each of the family plots, inhabited by Sheridans, McCarthys and Quigleys, clear.
Until it does so, the demolitions will have to wait.
The news was greeted with loud cheers from the curious alliance of Travellers, student activists and some very posh and concerned citizens gathered inside the six-acre encampment.
"A great victory," said Cathleen McCarthy, one of the 400 or so people who make their home on the site, which is owned by the Travellers.
"Thank God, I can go to sleep not worrying if they are going to come through the gate," said Mary Gammell (19).
The barriers erected by the students, from universities including Cambridge, were impressive.
Overlooking the access road was a lookout tower made of scaffolding, its base a barricade made from derelict vehicles including a car filled with concrete.
Campaigners, many members of Climate Camp, gathered on the tower and jeered at the officials below while others lounged in the sun, eating hippie food and listening to 'My Boy Lollipop'. Some wore boiler suits and masks to obscure their identities.
One, a girl called Emma, who is 18-years-old and French, had attached herself to the barricade by a bicycle lock placed around her neck.
"I don't plan on dying but it will slow them down," she said. "I think we'll be able to keep them off for a couple of days. They've got £18m and we have got about £5,000."
The Reverend Paul Trathen, an adviser to the Bishop of Chelmsford, condemned the council's actions as un-Christian. (© Daily Telegraph, London)