Britain's biggest illegal traveller site wins reprieve

19th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Residents at Britain's largest illegal traveller camp won a last-minute court injunction on Monday delaying a bid by the local authority to evict them from the sprawling site.

The High Court ruling, stopping any action before a further hearing Friday, came as bailiffs prepared to enter the Dale Farm camp outside the town of Basildon in southeast England.

A party atmosphere erupted among the 200 residents and outsider activists, some of whom have chained themselves to the hastily-erected barricades blocking the entrance to the six-acre (2.4 hectare) camp.

Bailiffs had earlier approached the site for the first time to urge the travellers to stop protesters from obstructing the then-imminent eviction.

"The eviction has stopped for today, I feel great. We might have a judge on our side now, it might get stopped altogether," said Nora Sheridan, a middle-aged Irish traveller who has been on Dale Farm for 10 years and was threatening to cement her feet to the ground.

At the High Court in London, judge Anthony Edwards-Stuart said there was a realistic chance that measures taken by Basildon Council to remove illegally-erected structures at the site "may go further" than the terms of the enforcement notices.

"I do not see that any serious injustice will be caused if the actual implementation of any measures will not take place before the end of this week," the judge said.

Basildon Council has fought a 10-year battle with the Irish travellers, who own the land but lack planning permission to build on it. The council had said the site clearance would begin on Monday.

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.

But several traveller families have already abandoned the camp and many of the remaining occupants are protesters.

Kathleen, the mother of the camp's youngest resident, two-week old Vivien, who was born on Dale Farm, told AFP: "I feel over the moon now, I really am glad the eviction has been put back to Friday. Whether it's going to stay, whether it's going to be off completely we don't know.

"If it stops, we'll be delighted. Everyone can just live a normal life again and put their children back to school.

"If the eviction goes ahead, I just don't want to think about it. I've nowhere to go."

The high-profile campaign to block the eviction has attracted support from Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and a former advisor to the United Nations.

The situation has also further highlighted the nomadic, largely ethnic Irish traveller communities in Britain, following a hugely popular television documentary series called "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings".

Council leader Tony Ball said the local authority was "extremely disappointed and frustrated by the decision" but was confident they would eventually be able to proceed with the clearance.

"The motion was put forward to the High Court without notice, which meant that the judge only had one side of the story and therefore has given the council until Friday to go back to the High Court," he said outside the site entrance.

Gypsy Council founder Grattan Puxon, 72, said that despite the reprieve, the inhabitants would remain on their guard.

"We have been evicted from many places but we don't intend to be evicted from Dale Farm without a big fight," he told AFP from behind a tyre wrapped in barbed wire at the barricade.

"We hope it's going to result in an understanding around Europe of what is happening to Romany people and travellers."

Earlier Monday, with the eviction seemingly imminent, a dozen bailiffs wearing yellow hard hats and blue jackets marked "Enforcement Officer" were greeted with a volley of abuse as they walked up to the Dale Farm camp, in tense scenes.

The protesters and Irish travellers sitting on a scaffolding blockade at the entrance shouted "here they come" and "shame on you".

Using a loud hailer, bailiff Bryan Lecoche urged protesters to leave for safety reasons.

He told them that the scaffolding blockade they had erected -- complete with wooden planks, boards, bricks, tyres and barbed wire -- had the potential to "put people's lives in danger".

Female protesters are taking turns to wear chains around their necks that will tighten if the barrier is moved.

© 2011 AFP

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