Britain's biggest traveller site wins legal reprieve

19th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

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

The High Court ruling delaying any action until Friday came just hours after bailiffs had entered the Dale Farm site near Basildon in southeast England for the first time to urge them to stop protesters from obstructing the eviction.

Cheers erupted from the 200 residents and protesters, some of whom have chained themselves to barricades at the six-acre (2.4 hectare) camp, after the reprieve.

"The eviction has stopped for today, I feel great. We might have a judge on our side now, it might get stopped altogether," Nora Sheridan, a middle-aged Irish traveller who has been on Dale Farm for 10 years, told AFP.

At the High Court in London, Judge Anthony Edwards-Stuart said there was a realistic chance that measures taken to remove illegal structures at the site by the local council "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 site but lack planning permission to build on it. The council had said the clearance of the site 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 a large number of families from the traveller community have already abandoned the site and many of the remaining occupants are protesters.

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

It has also highlighted the issue of nomadic, largely ethnic Irish traveller communities in Britain, particularly after they were featured in a popular television documentary called "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings."

Council leader Tony Ball said the authority was "extremely disappointed and frustrated by the decision" but confident that they would be able to go ahead with the clearance of the site in the end.

"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.

Earlier Monday, a dozen bailiffs wearing yellow hard hats and blue jackets marked "Enforcement Officer" were greeted with a volley of abuse and called "Nazis" as they walked into the Dale Farm site.

As they approached the crowd of protesters and Irish travellers at Dale Farm, travellers sitting on a scaffolding structure at the entrance to the site shouted "here they come" and "shame on you".

Using a loud hailer, one of the bailiffs urged protesters who have moved into the site to support the travellers to leave for safety reasons.

The bailiff, who did not give his name, told the protesters that the scaffolding structure -- which was erected by the campaigners -- had the potential to "put people's lives in danger".

Ball had earlier 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.

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.

The travellers had earlier Monday appeared to have lost their last legal barrier to eviction when a court dismissed a bid by an elderly traveller challenging the council's attempts.

© 2011 AFP

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