16 Sep 2011

Dale Farm travellers fear ‘excessive force’ at eviction

A judge has rejected a final appeal by residents of Dale Farm, who face eviction on Monday, as campaigners tell Channel 4 News residents now fear their property will be “smashed up”.

The Dale Farm site, where residents await eviction (Getty)

A last-ditch bid to halt the clearance of the UK’s largest unauthorised travellers’ site at Dale Farm in Basildon, Essex has been rejected by an appeal judge.

The community continue to fight to stay on the site. One 11-year-old girl from Dale Farm has written to David Cameron, pleading him to stop the forced eviction.

In her hand-written note, Eileen O’Brien told the prime minister: “I was living here since I was one and I’m 11 now… It’ll be really hard leaving.”

Eileen is one of more than 100 children who attend the local primary school. Yvonne MacNamara, Director of the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, said: “This eviction will rip them away from their friends, their education and possibly from their future prospects.”

Also today, Dale Farm Solidarity accused Basildon Council of a “cover up”, claiming the council had no legal standing to claim to be restoring the land to ‘green belt’ status as the council had already “desecrated” the land and made it a brown field site by “laying down hardcore and concrete years before the site was bought by Travellers”.

Pete Ross, of Dale Farm Solidarity, told Channel 4 News that Members of the Dale Farm community “are worried that the bailiffs will smash their caravans”.

From previous experience they have “an idea of how many people it will be and how it works”, he said. “Some smash up everything in sight – people, fences and houses.”

Most of the community remains at the site: “All of the kids went to school today – most kids are still here,” Ross said.

“Some people have moved some of their possessions out of here. But only two or three people have left.”

Residents are expected to begin leaving voluntarily ahead of the planned eviction.

At least one chalet, carried by two trucks, and eight caravans have been seen leaving Dale Farm near Basildon this week.

Mr Ross said that some people have left caravans and possessions with friends and family elsewhere, and returned to the site, while others have traded their caravans, as “they don’t have anywhere else to go”.

‘Reasonable force’

When asked what force would be used to remove residents on Monday, a spokesperson for Basildon Borough Council, who issued the notice of eviction, told Channel 4 News “none, hopefully”.

“Obviously if the travellers leave the site before Monday then there will be no need… obviously then it will be a peaceful event.

“Everything they want to keep will be packed up, photographed and put into storage. A lot of care will be taken over it. The expectation, though, is that people will take everything with them, because they won’t want to pay for storage.”

However, if the travellers do not leave the site he said “there’s no question that property will be damaged” and the bailiffs will “go in and ask people to leave”.

Special contractors will “use reasonable force” to remove anyone who refuses. He said this might involve “picking people up and moving them”.

The council, he explained, is more concerned about “anarchists” hijacking the protest than the travellers themselves.

When asked how the Channel 4 documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding had affected the public’s perception of the Dale Farm eviction, Mr Ross said there were “pros” and “cons”.

“They turned it into a drama, a fictional story about the lives of the Gypsy community.

“One positive effect was that it made a celebrity of Paddy Docherty [winner of Celebrity Big Brother 2011], and he has come out in support of Dale Farm.”

Bailiffs employed by Basildon Council are due to begin the clearance of 51 unauthorised plots on the former scrapyard on Monday.

It is estimated up to 400 people live on Dale Farm although this number fluctuates as residents travel on a seasonal basis.

The residents, Mr Ross said, are hoping for “passive resistance that will be a spectacle to the world” on Monday. “People are hoping that we can win.”