Eviction begins at Britain's biggest traveller site

19th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Residents and activists hurled missiles at riot police and torched a caravan as the clearance of Britain's biggest illegal travellers' site got under way Wednesday.

The culmination of a decade-long legal battle came shortly before dawn when dozens of police entered the Dale Farm site in southeast England to begin clearing the six-acre (2.4 hectare) camp.

They were met with resistance from seasoned activists wearing blue jumpsuits and face masks who have joined the Irish traveller residents at the site outside the town of Basildon in Essex.

Police said two people were shot with Taser stun guns, while three people have been arrested, but a police spokesman said the camp was under control by 1200 GMT.

The local ambulance service said six people had been injured as they resisted eviction, with one woman taken to hospital with a minor back injury and four others refusing hospital treatment.

Police entered the camp from the back, bypassing the giant scaffolding barricade built up by protesters at the main entrance.

Some female residents were in tears as the police lines approached, while travellers and activists alike shouted abuse at the officers.

People hastily erected barricades made of tyres, broken tables, wooden pallets and an old sofa, blocking off pathways in the compact site.

Resident Sherlen McCarthy, 22, was concerned as she stood watching the scenes with a friend.

"My mum has diabetes and asthma; she is in a caravan. I don't want her to see all that," she told AFP.

"When they kick us out, we'll have nowhere to go. The police will have to move us out."

Protestor Janet Thomas, 57, a health service worker, said: "It's disgraceful. I can't believe this is happening in this country.

"It's absolutely horrendous. It's like ethnic cleansing. Where do these poor people go after that?"

Within hours, police had established control over the site, and began to bring down activists down from the scaffolding which was preventing vehicles from entering the camp.

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.

Police said they had moved in on Wednesday following indications that violence was likely to occur, with intelligence pointing to stockpiles of missiles and liquids to be used against officers and bailiffs.

Essex Police spokesman Trevor Rowe told reporters: "We are in control of the whole site. It's calm. The tension is now reduced.

"The majority of the violence has clearly come from the protestors," he added.

He defended the use of Tasers, which fire a pair of darts into a target to stun them with a jolt of electricity, saying "serious violence was offered to a pair of officers".

Basildon Council, the local authority, has fought a long battle with the Irish travellers, who own the land but lack planning permission to build on it.

There are tight restrictions on the use of "green belt" land, in this case the ring of protected countryside surrounding London.

The Dale Farm site comprises 51 unauthorised plots, on which caravans and some chalet-type houses are home to up to 400 people, including many families and their children.

Basildon Council wanted to start the eviction last month after a court victory but the travellers were able to delay the move until now using a series of legal avenues.

The local authority has set aside up to £18 million ($28.4 million, 20.5 million euros) to clear the site.

Council leader Tony Ball said: "I am absolutely clear that after 10 years of negotiations to try and find a peaceful solution to this that actually what we're doing is the right thing.

"I now call upon the travellers to ask the protestors to stand down so that the bailiffs can carry on with their lawful work of clearing the site."

© 2011 AFP

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