Travellers leave Britain's biggest site after police raid

20th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Residents and protesters walked out of Britain's biggest illegal traveller site on Thursday, a day after violent clashes with police who raided the camp.

Chanting slogans, more than 100 people left through the gap opened up after bailiffs demolished the main gate of the Dale Farm site outside the town of Basildon in Essex, southeast England.

The ethnic Irish travellers, who own the land but did not have permission to build on it, earlier this week lost a 10-year legal battle over the site with Basildon Council, the local authority.

"Our message is that, as supporters and residents, we leave with our heads held high. It is a terrible moment, very sad, but the time has come," resident Kathleen McCarthy.

After the walk-out, families began to leave the site in a steady procession of caravans.

Police said 39 people were arrested during the stand-off, most of them on Wednesday when dozens of riot police carrying shields and batons forced their way into the six-acre (2.4 hectare) camp.

Seasoned activists who had joined the residents hurled bricks at officers, swung spades at them and torched a caravan. At least one person was shot with a Taser stun gun.

On Thursday, bailiffs knocked down a huge metal scaffolding structure over the main gate, which had become a symbol of resistance.

British newspaper 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 of 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.

There are tight restrictions on the use of "green belt" land in Britain, 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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