Police take control of Britain's biggest traveller site

20th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Riot police have gained control of Britain's biggest illegal travellers' site after meeting violent resistance and a barrage of missiles on entering the camp .

Seasoned activists, who have joined the residents, hurled bricks at officers, swung spades at them and torched a caravan on Wednesday at the culmination of a decade-long legal battle over the Dale Farm site in southeast England.

Dozens of police carrying shields and batons forced their way into the six-acre (2.4 hectare) camp of Irish travellers, outside the town of Basildon in Essex, shortly before sunrise.

One person was shot with a Taser stun gun, while 23 people were arrested, but the camp of caravans and chalets was under control by midday, police said.

The local ambulance service said six people had been injured, with one woman taken to hospital with a minor back injury and four suffering from smoke inhalation.

Police entered the camp from the back early Wednesday, bypassing the 12-metre (40-foot) high scaffolding barricade erected 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."

Within hours, police had established control over the site, and then removed activists who had used bike locks to attach themselves to the top of scaffolding at the front entrance, which was preventing vehicles from entering the camp.

Heavy machinery was waiting outside the site, ready to enter following the removal of the barricade, which police were dismantling as darkness fell.

It appeared to be the end of the high-profile campaign to block the eviction which has attracted support from Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and a former advisor to the United Nations.

British media reaction to the eviction was split along traditional left/right lines.

The centre-right Daily Mail claimed Thursday that the travellers deserved "not one iota public sympathy" while Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid The Sun said the public should be grateful to the police for carrying out "a rotten job".

The left-leaning Guardian had more sympathetic words, saying images of families being turfed out of their homes were "stomach-churning" and that the police faced "difficult questions" over their use of Tasers.

Kathleen McCarthy, a Dale Farm resident, said the eviction would "weigh heavily on Britain for generations."

Police said they had moved in 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 Roe told reporters: "We are in control of the whole site. It's calm. The tension is now reduced.

He defended the use of a Taser, which fires a pair of darts into a target to stun them with a jolt of electricity, saying officers had been faced with "serious violence".

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 single-storey houses are home to up to 400 people, including families.

Basildon Council wanted to start the eviction last month after a court victory but the travellers managed 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.

© 2011 AFP

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