Wednesday 13 December 2017

Irish Travellers facing Dale Farm eviction await a decision on their fate from London High Court

John Aston

IRISH Travellers living at Dale Farm, the UK's largest illegal travellers' site, could learn today whether they have won or lost their High Court battle against eviction.

They are seeking court orders blocking their removal from the controversial site near Basildon, Essex.

In a week-long hearing, a judge heard three linked applications for judicial review.

Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, said he hoped to give his ruling at 2pm today, but warned it might have to be put off to another day.

Traveller lawyers argued that Basildon Council's decision earlier this year to take direct action to clear the green belt site of about 400 travellers, including about 100 children, was "disproportionate" and must at least be reconsidered.

The council was accused of failing to take account of vulnerable residents, including the sick in need of regular medication and children whose schooling would be disrupted if families were evicted.

Lawyers for Basildon, which has fought a 10-year battle to clear the site, argued it had acted lawfully and reasonably and complied with its statutory duty.

Bailiffs have been given permission by another High Court judge to clear 49 of the 54 plots if today's legal challenge fails.

Further delay might be caused if the travellers decide to try to appeal if they lose.

Yesterday, the last day of the hearing, the judge was told the council had agreed that some families could not be evicted by direct action.

Richard Harwood, representing site resident Margaret McCarthy, said some caravans and some buildings, with fences and walls, plus some hard standing in one corner, would be allowed to remain in place.

Mrs McCarthy, a site resident since 2001, stood to benefit from that agreement, said Mr Harwood.

"There is absolutely no consideration by the council of the new circumstances of Margaret McCarthy," he said.

Although hard standing would be taken up, "the council now accepts her building can be retained, her residential use retained and her boundary fences and walls can be retained".

Mr Harwood argued the council's original aim in taking direct action - to restore the whole site to a cleared, open state - was now impossible to achieve.

When Basildon councillors had voted for evictions they had not been told they could not get rid of certain plots.

The council was now legally obliged to reconsider the benefits of continuing the action and weighed against the effect on individual travellers.

Reuben Taylor, for the council, argued the direct action decision remained lawful and indicated some other form of action still might be taken against those who remained on the site.

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