Thursday, 15 September 2011

At Dale Farm, families pack up as neighbours fight on | UK news | The Guardian

At Dale Farm, families pack up as neighbours fight on

As eviction looms, relatives of terminally ill Travellers insist on staying because they are unable to move their loved ones

Dale Farm
UN representative Yves Cabannes opposes the Dale Farm evictions. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

The residents of Dale Farm had hoped for a miracle. Sadly, the house that walked was not the miracle they needed.

It looked as if the two halves of the lime-green chalet would never squeeze under protesters' scaffolding at the entrance to the largest unauthorised Traveller site in Britain. But, pushed by a Land Rover, the chalet that had been a family home for a decade inched its way through and out on to the road.

A growing number of residents fear they will be forced on to the roadside next week when bailiffs begin Basildon council's £18m eviction. Several have taken away their chalets and sold them, and community elders have left as stressed residents fear last-ditch legal appeals and Wednesday's intervention of two former UN experts will not halt their forced removal.

But many other Travellers at Dale Farm insisted they would stay, unable to move themselves or their terminally ill relatives off the site.

On a gloriously sunny day, the curtains were drawn in the caravan belonging to Mary and Cornelius Sheridan. The only sound coming from the caravan was of Cornelius breathing heavily, with the help of a nebuliser.

Mary is caring for her dying husband, who has bowel cancer.

"I'm staying because where can I put Cornelius?" she said. "The eviction will kill Cornelius. There's no saying it won't. By night, he wakes up and then he says, 'Oh Mary, there's the bailiffs.'"

Macmillan nurses used to visit Cornelius to provide palliative care and vans delivered his medical equipment but neither come to the site any more, according to Mary. She has to go to the chemist to pick up the medical equipment he needs.

When the eviction gets under way and electricity supplies are cut off, Mary has been told she will be given batteries to run Cornelius's nebuliser but she fears they won't be reliable enough to keep it going. "It's taken a lot to build Connie back up. This is just dragging him into the mud," she said. "I don't know why they are doing this to me."

What would she say to Tony Ball, leader of Basildon council? "I would turn around and say to him, 'Do you have a heart? You mustn't have a heart because, if you had, you wouldn't be dragging a dying man out of this home.'"

The Sheridans were visited on Wednesday by Professor Yves Cabannes who, as chair of the UN habitat advisory group, has conducted a detailed study of international evictions, including the Dale Farm removal.

The former UN planning expert said Britain was "violating international rights" and the government had created "a national problem" over just 51 unauthorised pitches at Dale Farm. "How on earth can such a developed country be unable to solve peacefully the problem of 51 pitches?" he said.

He was joined by Sir Richard Jolly, former assistant secretary general of the UN, who said in a letter he had watched the impending eviction at Dale Farm with "a growing sense of outrage".

Jolly said the UN convention on the rights of the child must be applied to the 100 children of Dale Farm. "The UK government, having given solemn commitments to the convention on the rights of the child has clear obligations to ensure that its provisions are fulfilled," he wrote, in a letter sent to Vanessa Redgrave, the actor who has been campaigning on behalf of the Travellers.

Ball said the council spent 10 years seeking "a peaceful and humanitarian solution" to the illegally developed site and the eviction – supported by more than £5m from the coalition government – was the last resort.

Ball said: "The Travellers can find a culturally appropriate answer to their housing problem but it must involve a site with the proper planning permission. The UN 'representative' may not be aware that Basildon provides more approved Traveller sites than any other local authority area in Essex and among the greatest number of any area in the country. We have a very strong record of working with Travellers within the law."

The Travellers are seeking a fresh hearing in the court of appeal on Friday, citing new evidence about seven seriously sick residents of Dale Farm.

Meanwhile, there is growing uncertainty over whether bailiffs will be able to legally remove many of the chalets next week because the enforcement notices against the unauthorised developments only specify caravans. About 40 chalets and pitches on the site are registered for council tax and are therefore classed as houses, not caravans.

A number of Dale Farm residents may yet be able to simply move next door after several families on the adjacent legal Travellers' site gave their permission for Dale Farm residents to borrow their pitches until they can find permanent homes.

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