Irish travellers win right to stay on Dale Farm site – for now
Irish travellers fighting to stay on the UK's biggest illegal site - at Dale Farm near Basildon, Essex - won the latest round of their High Court legal battle today.
The travellers won a temporary reprieve in their long-running battle after a judge ruled that the 400 residents were entitled to an extension of an injunction stopping their evictions until the courts have ruled on the legality of their proposed removal.
The ruling was a blow to Basildon Council, which is also facing other legal action that could prolong yet further its 10-year battle to clear the site, expected to cost some £18m (€21.5m).
Travellers had said they feared that evictions will not be carried out lawfully and that council officials will "over-enforce".
They wanted the judge to rule that the case raises issues which should be fully aired later at a trial.
Lawyers for the travellers and the council - which says the eviction operation will cost the taxpayer around £18m (€21.5m) - analysed details of eviction plans for specific plots on Friday.
The judge described the debate as a "difficult area".
Travellers have more litigation in the pipeline - which could further delay evictions.
They want a judge to review the validity of council eviction decisions.
Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart is expected to hear arguments on that challenge in the near future.
Last night the travellers' supporters called on Basildon Council representatives to "return to the negotiating table", saying that continuing the action will only see costs spiral even further out of control.
Campaign group Dale Farm Solidarity said several high-profile figures had offered to mediate, including Bishops Thomas McMahon and Stephen Cottrell, UN representatives and local MEP Richard Howitt.
Kate O'Shea, from Dale Farm Solidarity, said: "We call on Tony Ball (council leader) to return to the negotiation table.
"The situation at Dale Farm needs a sensible and common-sense approach, and we urge all parties to use this pause to find an amicable solution.
"The UN and two local bishops have offered to mediate any talks should this be required, and we urge Tony Ball to accept their offer."
The Gypsy Council echoed the calls, saying it had become clear during Friday's hearing that the site would not necessarily be returned to open countryside, even if the eviction went ahead.
A statement said: "Pursuing this eviction would be a bad thing for both sides."