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Monday 20 November 2017

Go, Move, Shift: Travellers bid to stop Dale Farm eviction

Campaigner Grattan Puxton (left), and actress Vanessa Redgrave (right), meet members of the McCarthy family during a visit to a travellers' site on Dale Farm. Photo: PA
Dale Farm travellers' site, in Essex. Photo: PA

Nick Britten, Jan Colley, Ben Kendall and reporters

UPDATE: The High Court rejected a bid by Irish travellers living in Britain’s largest illegal travellers’ site to stay on the land they own. Evictions from the Dale Farm site by Basildon Council in Essex can now begin.

The notice to leave issued to 50 families expires on September 1 in a planning dispute that has dragged on for ten years.

The 240 Irish families living there own the land but do not have planning permission to live there. They threatened today to burn their homes rather than move.

Vanessa Redgrave has thrown her support behind them - sparking calls for the left-wing actress to welcome the campers onto her own property if she was concerned by their plight.

Miss Redgrave, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, said clearing the Dale Farm site in Essex breached United Nation's children's rights and said she was "appalled that such an eviction can be upheld by our government."

Basildon Borough Council is expected to enforce the process at Dale Farm from midnight unless the application for a temporary injunction to preserve the existing situation is granted by Mr Justice Kenneth Parker at London's High Court.

The case hinges on the circumstances of 72-year-old Mary Flynn who suffers breathing problems and uses an electric nebuliser.

Supporters including actress Vanessa Redgrave listened as counsel Michael Paget said that European law required that, where someone's home or home life was being interfered with, there should be an independent consideration by the courts of whether the action was proportionate.

He said that Mrs Flynn, who has lived at the site for eight years, was very sick and there was medical evidence to show that her situation was highly relevant to any balancing exercise.

He said: "We accept that it is lawful to bring an enforcement procedure against us under English and Welsh national law and we accept that our Article 8 rights (which affect private and family life) have been considered by the local planning authority.

"But no judge has determined whether it is proportionate to use this process to evict Mrs Flynn from her plot."

The contested application, which is likely to last all afternoon, continues.

Around 240 Irish travellers who have illegally built on the six-acre plot near Crays Hill face being moved out whilst the local council remove anything that does not have planning permission.

Travellers living at the site have threatened a "bloody and violent" struggle if they are forced from the land.

The eviction is the latest stage of a 10-year battle between the travellers and Basildon Council, which in July served a 28 day notice on the travellers to take down anything illegally constructed or vacate the land, which ended at midnight yesterday.

The clearance operation and sorting the land out is costing taxpayers £8 million.

Tony Ball, the council leader, said: "The council has spent ten years trying to avoid a forced clearance. We have always sought to persuade the travellers to move on, and to help them with that process.

"However, the legal process has, after a decade, finally been exhausted and the Council now has the job of upholding the law."

Miss Redgrave joined around 200 supporters from around the world at "Camp Constant", set up next to the site to house supporters of the travellers, to protest against the eviction.

She said: "The UK signed and ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child. I am certain that the eviction of the Dale Farm traveller families is illegal under international, mandatory, human rights conventions."

She and her late brother, the actor Corin Redgrave, who died last year, have been key supporters of the travellers at Dale Farm. The Bishop of Chelmsford has also called for the travellers to be allowed to stay.

However, the actress's involvement led to angry calls on local radio phone-ins yesterday asking why she does not invite the travellers to come live on her land.

A spokesman for Basildon Council, which has been accused by protesters of ethnic cleaning and "systematic racism", said that planning officials would inspect the site in the coming days to assess what, ifanything, the travellers had taken down, before any action to remove them was taken.

He said: "This is not a mass eviction, it is a planning issue. Once the site has been cleared of anything that has been built illegally, they can move back.

"They own the land and are entitled to be there."

Those living on the site were last night preparing to dig in, blocking the entrance ways and putting up barbed wire. With all other sites in the county taken up, it is not clear where the travellers will live.

Mary O'Brien, a mother of two 18-month-old twins, said: "This is home - we are human beings and this is madness. The council is willing to pay £18million to move us on, but I can tell you now, the traveller 'problem' will not disappear with this eviction.

She added: : "These are our homes - we are not going to go without a fight. Would you just leave your home and walk away if someone was throwing you out? It will be bloody and violent."

Grattan Puxon, secretary of the Dale Farm residents' association, warned that those relying on medical equipment would die if any attempts to cut the water and power supply to the site.

He said: "We will chain ourselves to the electricity supply because we will not have the electricity go off, because it will be a death sentence."

Others warned that they will be forced to move to roadsides and supermarket car parks because they had nowhere else to go.

However, Len Gridley, whose house backs onto the site, said he had "nosympathy" for the travellers, some of whom featured on the televisionprogramme My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

He said: "It s been hell for the last 10 years, because of theirbehaviour and the way they carry on.

"It's a green field site; we want it cleared and put back to green field.

"These people own property in Ireland and all around the UK andEurope, there are hundreds and hundreds of legal gypsy plots, thereare plenty of places for them to go.

"The way they behave, no-one wants them."

Last night Redgrave warned that "lives would be ruined" if the eviction went ahead, and said she hoped violence could be avoided and "humanity would triumph".

"It's a day on which I have great hope that this strong, wise, warm and gentle community will have their rights protected and will not have their rights disintegrated," she added.

"The whole situation is really about planning - there's no crime that has been committed.

"Evicting these families would be totally unreasonable and irresponsible. The council has said there are no alternatives but there are alternatives. "

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