Dale Farm – The Fight Continues
The operation had begun at 7.30 am on October 19th when heavily armoured police firing Tazers – projectiles carrying a 6,000 volt electric charge – broke through fencing in a dawn raid and pushed through the site until brought to a halt by residents, burning barricades and supporters locked onto lorries and scaffolding.
The police defended their use of Tazers - which are potentially lethal and not designed for crowd control - saying that they had come under attack from the protestors. The protestors and residents say that the police tactics were heavy-handed and aggressive from the start and likened the police operation to a “commando raid”.
After a tense stand-off as police and bailiffs attempted to remove protestors from the barricades and scaffolding tower, the residents and the protestors took the decision to end resistance to the police operation and marched out of the site together.
“You can’t take away our dignity”
Resident Kathleen Sheridan said, “Leaving together is about our own dignity and our appreciation of the support we’ve received. We’re leaving together as one family, and we are proud of that - you can’t take away our dignity”.
With the protestors gone, the second part of the operation began with bailiffs using heavy diggers and machinery moving in to clear the unauthorized plots watched by worried residents.
With five remaining authorized plots containing many caravans and refugees from the evicted plots, the clearance is complicated and Gypsy Council representative Candy Sheridan and campaigning lawyer Marc Willers had to intervene on several occasions to remind Basildon council that the bailiffs could only act under the powers of the court judgment and not go beyond it.
“It’s disgraceful,” says Mary Sheridan. “We always knew the bailiffs would breach their court orders, they always do.”
Disruption to the children
The clearance could take weeks and the disruption to the lives of the remaining residents in both the five legal plots and the official half of the site that still remains is immense. With half-term starting, the children are unable to escape the ongoing eviction by going to school.
“A muddy hole in the ground”
Matthew Brindley from the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain describes what is happening: “There are diggers and low-loader lorries on site and bailiffs in high-visibility jackets and hard hats. There are also a few legal monitors witnessing the clearances. The diggers are pulling up illegal hard-standing and building banks of earth around the site to stop future access. This concerns us because the court order is only meant to stop residential use and remove some of the structures and the land still belongs to the Travellers,” he says. “The Council and Bailiffs are also planning to dig up the main access road which will isolate the five legal plots - which currently have about 10-15 caravans parked on them housing families with children. On three of these plots the court order allows the hard-standing to be removed but the caravans can stay. This will mean the bailiffs digging it out from under the caravans making life untenable for the remaining residents and reducing them to living in a muddy hole in the ground.”
Prejudice and ignorance
As the site is cleared, The Traveller’s Times can reveal that the Chairman of Essex County Council has sent a letter to the Mayor of Basildon thanking him on “behalf of the people of Essex and the County Council” for evicting the site which he says was “occupied” by “travellers” and “Irish criminals”.
Basildon Deputy Leader and Conservative Councillor Stephen Horgan used the eviction as an opportunity to score political points and claimed on his blog that the local Labour Party had betrayed the ”forgotton” local settled residents of Crays Hill because they “hate some parts of the Basildon community.” He also described Dale Farm as a “slum” and said that that Travellers needed to “change their culture” as they were living “in conditions that the settled community largely moved on from a century ago.”
“Dignity and peace”
Meanwhile, as the politicians claim victory and gloat, Candy Sheridan (pictured) is on site every day amidst the bailiffs and council workmen, the noise and the machinery. She is there working with the residents to help them cope with the clearance operation and make sure that the bailiffs do not overstep the mark. “This happens to my community every month, every week, every day,” she says. “The media have now gone but the fight continues,” she says. “There are families living in the middle of all this. They have nowhere else to go. The court order allows for a small site to remain here and we will make sure that happens and that the residents can live here with dignity and in peace.”
In December’s issue of the Magazine, The Traveller’s Times talks to Gypsy and Traveller rights campaigner Marc Willers and Gypsy Council representative Candy Sheridan about what Dale Farm means for the Romany Gypsy and Traveller communities