Bailiffs move in to clear Britain's biggest traveller site

19th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Bailiffs surrounded Britain's biggest traveller settlement on Monday to carry out a mass eviction but residents chained themselves to barricades and vowed to resist the clearance.

Around 200 remaining travellers and supporters locked themselves into Dale Farm in southeast England, blocking the main gate with a van and setting up barricades using tyres and barrels filled with concrete.

Several protesters chained themselves to obstacles within the site, as the end apparently neared to what has been a 10-year legal battle over the six-acre (2.4-hectare) camp.

A large number of families from the Irish traveller community have already abandoned the site and many of the remaining occupants were protesters who had flocked to the site to support their cause.

Women at the site held what is likely to be their final party at the site late Sunday, drinking and singing traditional traveller songs.

The entrance to the site, a former scrapyard, has been decorated with banners and slogans, including one which read "Human rights for Dale Farm."

"There are people here from all over the world and the travellers have made us so welcome," said a protester named Ruth, who had attached herself to a car.

"It has become increasingly difficult for travellers to find a site in recent years. Planning law is very discretionary and we do not feel it's being used fairly," she said.

The travellers are being evicted by bailiffs backed by police in an operation with an estimated cost of £8 million ($12.6 million, 9.2 million euros).

The travellers own much of the land at the site 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London but local authority Basildon Council say they have broken the law by building on it without permission.

The site comprises 51 unauthorised plots, on which caravans and some chalet-type houses were home to up to 400 people including many families and their children until several days ago.

Kathleen McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Dale Farm traveller community, made a final plea, telling BBC radio that the eviction was "destroying the lives of young little children and really sick and old people."

"I would like you to apologise before you destroy our lives and put us out on the street," she urged the council.

"We want to keep our culture, everyone else is allowed to keep their culture."

Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and a former United Nations official have both backed a campaign to block the eviction.

But Basildon council leader Tony Ball defended the clearance, saying the local authority had followed proper procedure through the courts and the eviction would take place in a "peaceful and calm manner."

"The bailiffs are totally aware of what they can and what they can't do and they will carry that out in as a professional and as safe a manner as is possible," he insisted on BBC radio.

"I would much rather we hadn't come to where we are today," he added.

Ball added he was encouraged by the fact that many of the traveller families had moved to an adjacent, legal site.

© 2011 AFP

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