Bailiffs prepare 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 and setting up barricades using tyres and barrels filled with concrete.

The local council, which has fought a 10-year battle with the Irish travellers over a lack of planning permission for the six-acre (2.4 hectare) site, said the clearance of the site would begin on Monday.

Addressing journalists outside the camp, Basildon council leader Tony Ball said: "It will be some time today."

He admitted he was concerned about the potential for clashes between the bailiffs, backed up by police, and the remaining travellers who have been joined by dozens of protesters come to support their cause.

"Of course I'm worried. Who wouldn't be? But I'm clear that our bailiffs will approach it in a professional and safe manner," he said.

The scaffolding entrance to the site had been blocked off with wooden planks, boards and barbed wire.

Signs on the blockade read: "Danger of death: behind this gate a woman is attached by her neck. If you attempt to open this gate you will kill her."

Some demonstrators perched in the scaffolding, wearing jump suits and face masks.

A large number of families from the traveller community have already abandoned the site and many of the remaining occupants were protesters.

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

But in a sign that many of the travellers believe they have lost their fight, women at the site held what is likely to be their final party there late Sunday, drinking and singing traditional traveller songs late into the night.

"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 on Monday.

"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 own much of the land at the site 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London but the 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 for the eviction to be delayed.

She told BBC radio 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."

Member of parliament for Basildon John Baron told AFP most people would accept that the council was taking the right course of action, despite an estimated cost of £8 million ($12.6 million, 9.2 million euros) for the eviction.

"We have a group of people who took some green belt land, knew they were developing it illegally and that site will be cleared," he said.

The council says it is encouraged that many of the traveller families have moved to an adjacent, legal site.

© 2011 AFP

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