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Sunday 22 April 2018

Irish travellers who fled illegal Essex site on fears of eviction move back in

Ellen Branagh

Travellers who fled the UK's largest illegal site amid fears of eviction moved back in today as the barricaded main gate was opened following an 11th-hour court victory.

Residents of Dale Farm in Essex won a court injunction on Monday, preventing the clearance of 51 unauthorised plots until Friday.

The injunction required Basildon Council to give a plot-by-plot breakdown of how they plan to clear Dale Farm in Essex.

In return the authority wanted residents to stop blocking access to the site and to discourage non-travellers from protesting there.

Travellers at the site today opened up its main gate, allowing access for emergency services - and a stream of travellers who had left to come back.

But the move was criticised by Basildon Council leader Tony Ball, who said it was "irresponsible" for travellers who had previously left peacefully to return.

"No efforts have been made to take the main barricade at Dale Farm down either - the gates have simply been opened to allow travellers to return," he said.

"The fact that this main barricade has not yet been removed and is unlikely to be shows a blatant disregard for the law and the obligations of the injunction.

"We must not forget that the travellers have used the law to their advantage at numerous times over the past decade and most recently on Monday, yet they seem to want to pick and choose what parts of the law they obey.

"These actions clearly go against the court order. We have done our bit, and I would continue to urge the travellers to do theirs."

While some families returned to Dale Farm, others were thought to have relocated to other parts of the country, including Luton.

Bedfordshire Police said some 20 caravans had pitched up at Stockswood Park, a large public park on the outskirts of the town.

A spokeswoman said no complaints have been received from residents around the park and police were keeping an eye on the situation.

Luton council said it was made aware of the encampment on Monday and immediately started legal procedure for eviction.

Dale Farm residents and council bosses have been at loggerheads for the past decade over illegal development at the six-acre site.

Homes on one half of the site are legal, but structures on the other half were put in place against planning rules and the local authority wants them cleared.

As some travellers moved back into the site today, resident Michelle McCarthy said: "With this court ruling we're finally hopeful that common sense will prevail, so we're moving our caravans back into Dale Farm.

"We're reasonable people and we urge the council to find a way that we can continue to live in peace as community."

Fellow traveller Mary Slattery, 59, said it was good to see people returning to their "home".

She said other travellers had gone to neighbouring areas including Luton and Reading: "They are skirting all around. It is true, they're moving on all over the place.

"We're hoping they're coming back. There's some at Luton, they've gone to Reading, they've moved around neighbouring places."

She said they planned to shut the gates again, but would still allow access until tomorrow morning when they are locked again, and those who had left had been told to be back before the gates were closed.

"We're not taking any chances in there. They have until tomorrow morning to be back in here and if they're not here, these gates are locked shut.

"We are going to close the gate, we're not going to lock it, we're going to close it, but tomorrow it's getting locked again.

"It's open for emergencies, it's not open for the bailiffs. It's going to be shut tight again.

"Depending on any news we hear, that gate is going to be shut tight again. You can't blame us, we're fighting for what's really ours, we're fighting for our rights."

She said they were nervous about Friday's court case.

"We're hoping that this judge, any judge out there, will listen to our plea. That's all we want, is for somebody to listen to us."

Basildon Council has said that if it succeeds in overturning the injunction at a court hearing on Friday, action to clear the site could restart within hours.

In that case, the travellers would also be liable for all costs incurred by the delay. The estimated cost of the total operation is £18 million.

Tom Evans, from campaign group Dale Farm Solidarity, said the eviction from Dale Farm was "senseless".

Calling for more legal pitches for travellers, he said: "The families have nowhere to go and unless more traveller pitches are found we are just throwing people into poverty and spending millions of pounds endlessly hounding these people from borough to borough.

"We need to solve the core of the problem by addressing the discrimination against travellers in the planning system."

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