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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dale Farm travellers finally move on (to set up a new illegal site down the road in Luton)

-Around 20 families are already at the site as another 40 make their way there
-Local residents fear there will be a repeat of the scenes in Basildon
-Travellers 'made their way onto the field by using bolt-cutters to open gate'

By Richard Hartley-parkinson

Scores of caravans from Dale Farm are expected to move to Stockwood Park in Luton (pictured)

Caravans from the Dale Farm travellers' site have upped sticks and set up an illegal camp 55 miles away leading residents to fear that many more are on their way.

Around 20 families have moved from Essex to Stockwood Park, close to Luton in Bedfordshire, after gaining access to a 100-hectare piece of land.

Those who stayed at Dale Farm, where travellers have been in a ten-year battle with Basildon Council, were given a last-minute reprieve from the High Court after a judge ruled that the proposed measures ‘may go further’ than the terms of the enforcement notices.

One of the travellers at the site said there were another 40 caravans on their way as people in Luton feared there would be a similar situation to that in Essex.

The 100-hectare site neighbours a golf course, horse riding centre and various other outdoor pursuits venues

Although travellers own the Essex site near Basildon they only have planning consent for half the site. However, the whole area is strewn with mobile homes and they have been in a battle with the local council for the last ten years.

The Luton site is described as an 'athletics track' and 'riding centre'. Nearby there are golf and rugby clubs, and a children's playground.

Travellers first started pitching up on Monday night and it has been alleged that one man arrived in a mobile home, using bolt-cutters to break through the park gates, according to the Sun.

One of the travellers, Flint Devons, 29, claimed he had lived at Dale Farm for seven years. He said: 'I moved to Luton rather than wait for the bailiffs because my health was suffering. My son and daughter were already in schools in Essex. Then we had to move and lose it all.

'We came to Luton because we've been here before. The word has now spread back to Dale Farm. There'll be 20 to 40 more caravans coming from Dale Farm. We have nowhere else to go.'

People living near the site have criticised the police and local council for not responding more quickly. One neighbour said: 'I used to look out of my bedroom window and see a beautiful park. Now it's caravans. I'm sure the gypsies won't cause trouble. Let's hope it stays that way.'

A spokesman for Luton Borough Council said: 'The council was made aware of the encampment and immediately started the standard legal procedure for eviction. We expect to move them on very soon.'

Around 60 caravans from Dale Farm (pictured) are expected to pitch up at the site in Luton

The travellers started moving from Dale Farm to Stockwood Park on Monday night

Last stand: Kathleen McCarthy (centre) appealed to Prime Minister David Cameron to stop the eviction

In scenes bordering on farce, the eviction of Dale Farm began with an all-day stand-off and ended with yet another legal hitch in a local council’s efforts to clear Europe’s largest illegal site earlier this week.

On one side were protesters and travellers insisting they shall not be moved. On the other, bailiffs and a small platoon of blue-uniformed officials spouting health and safety concerns through a loudhailer that didn’t work.

But this long-awaited first stage in the Battle of Basildon was abruptly halted when a judge sitting 50 miles away granted a last-gasp injunction to delay further action.

Now the operation to clear the site has been put on hold until at least the end of the week after Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart ruled at the High Court in London that the proposed measures ‘may go further’ than the terms of the enforcement notices.

Basildon Council was thrown into disarray last night as its lawyers scrambled to read through the injunction. Leader Tony Ball hurriedly left a television interview for an urgent briefing.

He didn’t explain the ruling when he returned to give a brief statement an hour later but said he was 'extremely disappointed and frustrated' by the decision.

He added: ‘The motion was put forward to the High Court without notice, which meant the judge only had one side of the story and therefore has given the council until Friday to go back to the High Court to make its argument.

‘I am absolutely clear that, in this issue on Friday, the court will find in the council’s favour and the clearance will be able to continue.’

The latest twist came as it was revealed that the travellers on the site at Crays Hill in Essex have been offered a total of 38 local authority homes to move from the site.

Danger: A sign of the barricade at Dale Farm warning that the 18-year-old girl attached by her neck will be killed if bailiffs open the gate

Basildon Council has suggested a variety of temporary flats and houses over the past six months in an effort to resolve the decade-long stand-off.

But they were turned down for reasons including because they smelled of smoke or were made of bricks and mortar, 'contravening' the travellers' desire to spend their life on the road.

A council spokesman said the injunction provided a 'blanket ban against the removal of any and all property' from the illegal camp.

A source later said they believed it might refer to the High Court order earlier this year which stated the eviction could go ahead and the concrete driveways, ‘hard standings’, the caravans stand on could be removed.

The source added they understood this failed to refer to fences and some other structures on the hard-standings, creating a legal loophole.

News of the injunction brought whoops of delight from travellers and supporters.

One, who gave her name as Mary, said: 'Thank God for British justice.'

The travellers and troublemakers had manned the ramparts of their barricade from before dawn as police, the local council and bailiffs set up camp beside the main entrance.

Fifty-one plots containing homes built without planning permission are set to be cleared from the six-acre site, along with their remaining residents, in an operation which could cost £18million.

Like opposing armies, the two sides emerged into daylight in different uniforms – the authorities a mixture of orange, yellow and blue, versus the travellers’ preference for track-suits. For hours they could be seen making their separate preparations for war.

And every sign was that this is going to be a long campaign.

Dangerous protest: An 18-year-old known only as Emma, right, is attached to a scaffolding pole with a bike lock around her neck. She and fellow protester Dean, left, are also handcuffed together inside the barrel

Reinforcements: Bailiffs move onto the site as the tense stand-off grew

If anyone needed confirmation, it came with the arrival of a stout traveller humping a consignment of supplies towards the gate. About 200 rolls of toilet paper in jumbo packs were pushed through a gap in the barricade to eager waiting hands.

The delivery was followed by supplies of high carbohydrate and energy foods such as crisps, peanuts and Bourbon Creams.

Nearby, a traveller in a distinctive white homburg was holding court with reporters. 'Don’t give them your name, Eamonn,' a woman shouted from behind.

One traveller who gave his name as Michael added: 'We have got to take a stand. If we don’t, this will just carry on with other traveller communities.'

Other families complained they had nowhere else to go – an argument weakened by the discovery that some have luxury homes back in Ireland.

Their resistance, which has received support from the UN, Vanessa Redgrave and the Bishop of Chelmsford, is in defiance of officials who insist they are breaking the law.

A woman dressed as a witch took up position with a walkie-talkie to a lookout platform on the ramparts.

'They’re coming!' someone shouted, and all eyes turned towards a cluster of hard-hatted bailiffs being escorted by police towards the blocked gate.

Protesters filled flour bombs and distributed missiles as they advanced, pageant-like, up the main approach.

From here, the platoon leader expressed health and safety concerns about the barricade, straining now under the weight of opposing forces.

A sign on the outside said a woman had secured herself to the gate by a noose – and warned that if it was forced open, she would be killed. Shouts of ‘racists’ drowned out most of the bailiff’s remaining words, and cheers accompanied his retreat.

Had his megaphone been working, the travellers might have heard him saying something about trying to resolve the stand-off swiftly and peacefully. Neither outcome looked likely.



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