Police crush resistance at Dale Farm as site cleared
THE Travellers of Dale Farm had defied the authorities for 10 years.
But it took police just a few hours to crush their resistance yesterday, invading the illegal encampment in an overwhelming show of force at dawn.
Protesters, most of whom did not live on the six-acre site in Essex, England, had prepared for a battle, chaining themselves to barricades and arming themselves with bricks and rocks.
But they were wrong-footed by the army of riot police who charged through a rear fence just before 7am.
There were some violent clashes as protesters, including one group of men wielding iron bars, tried to block their path. Caravans were set on fire and, at one point, officers had to withdraw after they were urinated upon by protesters on top of scaffolds.
But, ultimately, the resistance was futile in the face of the well-drilled force armed with Taser guns, batons and shields.
The clashes left six people injured and resulted in 23 arrests. One person was taken to hospital with back injuries.
Another needed treatment after the power supply to the site was cut off, causing his defibrillator to shut down.
By 11.30am, Basildon borough council and the police were claiming victory, although a few straggling supporters were still putting up resistance last night.
Rehmat Rayatt (21) from Essex, who witnessed the dawn raid, said the police were "unstoppable" and like a "marauding horde". "They would charge and then regroup, charge and then regroup. It was terrifying," he said.
Patrick Egan (26) who owns one of the few legal homes on the camp, was close to tears as he said the police smashed through his garden wall using sledgehammers.
"It was totally terrifying," said the painter and decorator. "Around 100 police just charged through my garden, pushing and shoving anyone in their way. My aunt Nora had to go to hospital with back injuries because they pushed her over. My other aunt, Ann, was treated by paramedics after collapsing with shock."
While most of the protesters were swept aside in the initial surge, a dozen or so had managed to scale a scaffold tower at the main gate and others had chained and handcuffed themselves to barriers.
One man had used a bicycle lock to attach his neck to a horizontal beam at the top of the barricade, claiming that he would hang if police tried to remove him. In the event, specialist climbing officers used a cherry picker crane to lower themselves onto the scaffold tower and cut him free.
Other protesters were similarly plucked off the makeshift frame and taken away.
As police and bailiffs approached the scaffold tower at around 2pm, two hooded protesters urinated on them and forced them to temporarily withdraw.
By 4.30pm, all the protesters had been removed from the self-styled "impregnable barrier", with just a stubborn few chained beneath the main platform. The camp will be guarded by police overnight then bailiffs will attempt to remove the last protesters today.
The clearance of 54 unauthorised plots, home to about 80 families, followed a decade-long row over the development of the green belt site. Last week, the Travellers lost a High Court action to stop the eviction, and on Monday they were refused the chance to appeal against that ruling, meaning the bailiffs could move in.
Marina Pepper (43), one of the leading activists, accused the police of being far too heavy handed.
"It was like using a hammer to crack a nut," she said. "The police were supposed to be here to keep the peace and not carry out the eviction.
"It was a total over-reaction."
Supt Trevor Roe, of Essex Police, insisted his officers had treated those on site with "respect and dignity".
He supported the use of a Taser gun during one angry confrontation. "Serious violence was offered to a pair of officers in particular," he said.
"Their response was to protect themselves. They carry personal protective equipment which includes the Taser and they just naturally reacted as they are trained individuals to operate that device."
Acknowledging that Tasers were not recommended as a "public-order tactic", he added: "This was an isolated incident where officers were threatened directly."
Tony Ball, the leader of the local council, defended using the police.
"I think we have seen from the level of violence put up by the protesters this morning that it was absolutely right that the police led the operation," he said. "I now call upon the Travellers to ask the protesters to stand down so that the bailiffs can carry on with their lawful work of clearing the site."
Len Gridley (52) whose property backs on to the site, said he was having to "pinch himself" to believe the eviction was finally taking place. The property developer, who has seen the value of his home fall by 70pc, said: "I can hardly believe what I am seeing.
"There was no messing around, there has been enough messing around with the Travellers, so they just dealt with it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)