Dale Farm residents have won a last-minute injunction stopping the council clearing their homes until Friday. Channel 4 News Social Affairs Editor Jackie Long reports from inside the site.
Bailiffs arrived at the main gate of the six-acre site Essex site on Monday afternoon in a bid to start the removal of up to 80 families living illegally.
In anticipation of the bailiffs’ arrival, hundreds of residents, bolstered by supporters, barricaded themselves inside the complex, which is the UK’s biggest illegal travellers’ site.
The site near Billericay has two parts; the first established 10 years ago with planning permission. The second – on greenbelt land – has no permission.
A resident calling himself “Finn” told Channel 4 News: “We want to stay here forever, this our home.
“Why should we move just because a statute’s been broken, this could be worked out.
“In a few years time people will be building on green belt.”
He is among those fighting to save 51 unauthorised plots on the former scrapyard. Half of the site, Oak Lane, which does have planning consent, will remain.
Earlier, Basildon Council leader Tony Ball vowed to go through with the controversial operation.
Mr Ball said: “Our operatives, when they begin the site clearance, which will be today, will do everything they can to make sure it’s done in a safe and professional manner.”
Mr Ball said the operation to clear the site could last as long as six to eight weeks.
Resident Kathleen McCarthy said that the site would be stay in lockdown. She said she and others would not go until they are physically forced.
She insisted: “We won’t go, we simply will not go. We will chain ourselves to whatever we can to stop the bailiffs. We’ve all experienced bailiffs before and are terrified of what they’ll do.
“But sometimes you’ve got to stand up for yourselves.”
Supporters closed the gate after 11pm on Sunday, built a barricade behind it and parked a van to block the way.
Moveable barricades reinforced with tyres have been set up on roads within the site, and barrels filled with concrete have been placed to provide protesters with points to tie themselves to.
An estimated 200 supporters and travellers have stayed on.
Channel 4 News reporter Carl Dinnen blogs from the site:
This was to be the day. After ten years of legal battles, the prospect of a real battle hung over Dale Farm.
They were expecting the bailiffs at eight am. But no bailiffs came. Activists manned the huge barricade now blocking the entrance to Dale Farm.
A man called ‘Finn’, face hidden, told me he was acting as a lookout for the bailiffs. There was a brief moment of excitement…as a woman hung out a notice. It warned that another protester was behind the barricade secured to it by the neck.
At quarter to ten, three local police officers came for a look. And left. Apparently there were too many journalists around. But still no bailiffs. At noon the council leader Tony Ball insisted the eviction would still start today. Was he worried about what might happen, I wondered; “Of course I’m worried”, he said, “Who wouldn’t be?”
A field beside Dale Farm has been transformed into a Bailiff’s fortress, with metal fences, metal buildings and metal roads. From their fortification the Dale Farm protesters can see the Bailiffs in their camp. They’re well within shouting distance.
The council will be supported by Essex police in what they are calling Operation Cabinet. Helicopter aside they’re keeping a low profile around Dale Farm, but in a field not far away, there are dozens of police vans gathered and waiting. Also waiting are the activists; the council claims there are now more activists than travellers in the camp.
Something vigorously disputed at the barricade. Just before three o’clock there was huge excitement as three bailiffs did turn up. One tried to make an announcement through a faulty megaphone. They were legally entitled to clear the land, they were worried about the barricade from a health and safety point of view and would the protesters like to negotiate its removal. He was met with a torrent abuse and left. The stand-off continues.