On 19th-20th October 2011, the eviction of 49 of 54 plots on the Dale Farm traveller site took place despite a large blockade of resistance from supporters (full account below). Basildon District Council had fought a long running battle to evict the pitchs on the Dale Farm site who were without planning permission (the 34 pitchs on the adjacent Oak Lane site have planning permission). Amnesty International denounced the eviction at Dale Farm, saying it “represents a failure on the Council’s part to comply with international human rights standards on housing and evictions.”
We encourage you read the Dale Farm Solidarity statement entitled “Dale Farm’s legacy goes beyond the 82 families who are homeless tonight”. Read also The long-term trend of cultural apartheid against the gypsy & travelling community Click here for details of the new Traveller Solidarity Network.
The Dale Farm estate, on Oak Lane in Crays Hill, Billericay, Essex, is a former scrapyard bought by traveller families and has existed since the 1970s.
Upholding the rule of law (some can afford more law than others) The local council sought to ensure the rule of law was upheld. Specifically, this was to ensure compliance with green belt policy which though legitimate on paper, in reality was a hypocritical joke regarding the fact that the site was a brownfield waste dump of wrecked cars for many years before it became a traveller site, as well as the fact that Basildon District Council’s hypocrisy over their own green-belt policy has recently been exposed. More credibly, the motive for eviction was the density of population without planning permission (500 people), for which Basildon District Council and the planning system at a national level (ie central government) may have considered that such a breach of planning regulation – and such a large one – may be a dangerous precedent. However, whilst locals may not have been enamoured with a situation of one rule for the travelling community and another for them, the stark reality remained that a new site would have cost a fraction of one-day’s policing costs for instance.
Whilst Basildon District Council pursued eviction proceedings which became a long-drawn out process, it was at the same time refusing to provide alternative sites in the area for the 80 families (approximately 500 people) on the 51 pitchs who were arguing for this on the grounds that they have the right to have their customary rights to settle protected on the basis that there is inadequate provision of traveller sites in the district (as is the case across the UK). Basildon District Council (BDC) refused to reach a deal on the basis that the land on that half of the Dale Farm site without planning permission was worth only £120,000. And yet, BDC voted to spend a third of its budget – £8 million demolishing the estate and turning people out onto the road. The policing cost had an additional price tag of £10 million, of which £6 million was said to have been provided by the Home Office.
It was also reported that BDC walked away from a working group looking into a solution to the standoff in which the Homes & Communities Agency offered money for a new site for the families. Read here. The HCA previously revealed it owns ‘extensive’ land within the Basildon district.
On Thursday the 13th October the Dale Farm traveller site lost it’s High Court hearing for the right to judicial review on Basildon’s District Council’s handling of the eviction process and the council’s provision of an alternative site to accommodate travellers on the grounds that stopping the eviction – in the words of Justice Duncan Ouseley – would “risk bringing criminal law and the planning system into serious disrepute”. In his ruling, Mr Justice Ouseley at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, also said that the Travellers delayed too long in challenging Basildon’s decision to take direct action against them, and said the council’s actions were not disproportionate. However, this judgement appeared not to identify any responsibility on central government for the source of the underlying problem – the lack of authorised sites nationwide.
At sunrise on 19 October 2011 the eviction of Dale Farm began. More than 100 riot police entered the site using sledgehammers to break down a wall on a fully legal plot on the edge of the site, and two people were tasered. As reported by the Guardian on a live blog at 13.32 on 19 Oct 2011, journalist Stephen Bates confirmed that officers were on the offensive and were not under threat from both men when they were Tasered (link to original live report here). Police spent most of that afternoon removing people from the 12-metre high scaffold tower on the front gate, with the help of cherry pickers. Police secured the area and removed protesters by early evening. Protestors locked on with arms in plastic tube arm linked through barrels of cement were removed the following morning. The scaffold tower was likewise dismantled the following morning by baliffs.
Late afternoon the following day on 20 October, Dale Farm travellers and supporters walked out of the site. Removal of mobile homes on the site by the bailiffs began, with reports of racial abuse and heavy handed destruction of remaining caravans on site.
The following taken from the Dale Farm Solidarity website is a full-statement of the travellers at the time of their mass walk-out with supporters off the site on Thursday 20th Oct:
At 4.45 pm today, Dale Farm residents and supporters jointly walked off the site to begin the next stage of the battle against eviction which has been waged across courts, barricades and protests. The decision to leave together was made in order to show the unity of the residents and supporters after two months of supporter presence at Dale Farm through Camp Constant.
Resident Mary Sheridan said, “Leaving with supporters today is about our own dignity and our appreciation of the support we’ve received. We’re leaving together as one family, and we are proud of that- you can’t take away our dignity”.
The mass walk-out leaves the site free of people except legal observers, who are required to make sure that the bailiffs stick to the letter of the law in leaving the walls, fences and most of the hardstanding in place.
Now the Travellers are outside the Dale Farm site, the legacy of Tory Councillor Tony Ball and local MP John Baron who drove the forced eviction to conclusion is laid bare. Where will these families go? How will their needs be met? The Travellers’ and supporters’ next move remains to be decided. Mr Ball and Mr Baron have declined to respond when asked for advice on what the Dale Farm community should do now.
Ali Saunders, a Dale Farm supporter added, “We have held off eviction for over a month, and our sense of togetherness has been amazing. Anyone who has visited the community cannot fail to see the importance of a movement to promote the rights of Travellers. Dale Farm will have a legacy for years to come.”
A new group, the Traveller Solidarity Network , has emerged in recent weeks, in response to the Dale Farm crisis.
Ali Saunders continued, “The Dale Farm forced eviction showed that the UK’s reputation for tolerance is a smokescreen for systematic discrimination against a Travellers because of their ethnicity and culture. That’s why groups from Amnesty International to the United Nations opposed the forced eviction.
Dale Farm has brought the ingrained prejudice against Travellers into public view, from constant rejections of planning permission, to hostile local authorities, to violent evictions. The true long-term impact of Dale Farm will be a movement of travellers and supporters to change attitudes so travelling people can live in peace and not be criminalised.”
Traveller Solidarity Network
Traveller Solidarity URL: http://travellersolidarity.org/
Travellers Advice Team at the Community Law Partnership: http://www.gypsy-traveller.org/your-rights/law/travellers-advice-team/
Irish Travellers Movement in Britain: http://www.irishtraveller.org.uk/
Traveller Solidarity: http://travellersolidarity.org/
Traveller Times: http://www.travellerstimes.org.uk/website/News.htm
Traveller Law Reform Project: http://www.travellerslaw.org.uk/
London Gypsy and Traveller Unit: http://www.lgtu.org.uk/
Advocacy Project: http://www.advocacynet.org/