Essex Traveller families face eviction

 

UP TO 60 Traveller families including an estimated 150 children are facing eviction from their homes at Dale Farm in Essex following a ruling by the British court of appeal.

The court ruled in favour of Basildon district council, reversing an earlier high court ruling quashing a council decision to take direct action to force compliance with enforcement notices over the Green Belt land in Billericay. Lord Justice Pill said High Court judge Mr Justice Collins had been “in error” in ruling that the council had failed to consider the position of the individual families.

Speaking to The Irish Timeslast night, Dale Farm spokesman Grattan Puxon said “the women here are very much in shock and in tears, the men are very defined and determined to protect Dale Farm, physically, if necessary”.

Mr Puxon warned that a forced eviction could result in “a very brutal confrontation”, adding “Dale Farm will be establishing their own defences, using several kilometres of barbed wire, scaffolding and iron gates”.

Reacting to the decision, Andrew Ryder, national policy officer with the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain, said “what is alarming is the prospect of being evicted without a place to go”.

Looking at past situations, people end up on the side of the road, which has a negative impact on their access to services and their health, he added.

Local parish priest, Fr John Glynn, said he was standing by the people of Dale Farm, and would be supporting them “against the aggressive tactics of the council”.

“These are my parishioners, they are part of the parish and they come to church, an alternative place should be provided for them, and that’s what I’m objecting to.”

Mary-Ann McCarthy, who is being evicted from the site with her seven children and 16 grandchildren, told The Irish Times: “I’m just gutted”. Her daughter Kathleen added: “All of us have to go and I don’t know where we’ll go as we have nowhere to go, we’ll end up on the side of the road.”

Ms McCarthy said she was especially concerned for those among them who are old or sick, including one woman who had given birth to triplets just six weeks ago.

Some of the families living at the Dale Farm site, first settled there in the 1960s and it has been an official settlement for some 40 families. More and more Travellers subsequently settled at the site without permission, and also at the nearby Five Acres Farm.

Basildon council voted in May 2005 in favour of enforcement notices to remove an estimated 1,000 people without planning permission for their caravans. Council leader Malcolm Buckley last night suggested the Travellers should accept that planning procedures were at an end and move on of their own accord.

“Nobody wants a forced eviction,” he told Sky News.

John Wadham, group legal director for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, expressed disappointment with the outcome of the case. He said that while the court had recognised Basildon council had to assess the impact of their policies on the Traveller community, the commission did not share the view that they did this properly.

“We are very concerned that this ongoing legal dispute has created a distressing situation for the Travellers at Dale Farm and for local residents,” said Mr Wadham. “We urge the council to carefully and compassionately consider the welfare of the estimated 150 Traveller children who now face eviction from their homes.”

He also said the commission would like to help the council bring all sides together and offer guidance in weighing legal obligations to the Traveller community with the need to maintain planning controls.