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Monday, September 19, 2011

'We'll only leave in body bags': Activists chain themselves to barricade as Dale Farm eviction begins (and even Gloria Hunniford turns up)

-2,000 activists ready for battle after adrenaline-fuelled talks in caravans
-Girl, 18, locks herself by the neck to a scaffolding pole to stop bulldozers
-Travellers offered council homes but they say 'it's not our way of life'
-Swedish Marxists, students and German anarchists converge on site
-Travellers drink until midnight in parties as they prepare for showdown
-'We will only leave in body bags,' vows one elderly traveller resident
-Cars and gas canisters will be 'set alight' as anarchists 'call the shots'

By Arthur Martin

Dangerous protest: Emma, right, is attached to a scaffolding pole with a bike lock around her neck. She and fellow protester Dean, left, are also handcuffed to a pole inside the barrel

Hundreds of anarchists are chained to barricades as they prepare for clashes with bailiffs attempting to clear Europe’s largest illegal traveller site.

Activists wearing face masks are staging what they call ‘Operation Lockdown’ to stop the authorities from bulldozing Dale Farm in a planned eviction.

Talks that have been ongoing throughout the day have now collapsed and the council has vowed to send in bailiffs within hours. The travellers are even refusing the chance to skip waiting lists and receive their own council homes offered to them by Basildon Council.

The threat of violence has only encouraged the protesters, some of them only teenagers, with one 18-year-old currently risking her life by locking herself by the neck to the gate of the farm.

Outside the compound there is a sign warning about the protester, known only as Emma, stating: 'Danger of death. Behind this gate a woman is attached by her neck. If you attempt to open this gate you will kill her.'

A cause she would die for: Emma grimaces as the bike lock is placed around her neck. On the other side of the gate is a sign warning bulldozers that Emma will die if they knock down the gate

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

With the human shield in place, huge metal gates at the front of the site are sealed and every other entry point is heavily fortified with high metal fencing, barbed wire, gas cylinders, car tyres and old washing machines.

Piles of bricks are stacked behind each barricade, prompting fears they could be used as weapons when the bailiffs begin the clearing.

Battered cars with their boots stuffed with hay are littering the site, raising fears that they could be set alight amid clashes.

The wives and girlfriends: Traveller women line up with a banner of a platform that has been erected around the site

Reinforcements: Bailiffs move onto the site this afternoon as the tense stand-off grows

Paintings of children and a banner calling for 'Human rights for Dale Farm' have been attached to the outside of the main barricade.

The travellers are also using a small wall at the end of a road connecting the bailiffs' compound with the site to defend themselves.

Amid the tense scenes, Norther Irish TV presenter Gloria Hunniford arrived in a taxi and mingled with the crowds of Swedish Marxists and German protesters.

There was some speculation over she was there, and some Tweeters suggested that the next celebrity to appear there would be 'Paul Gascoigne with a fishing rod', as he did at scene of the Raoul Moat stand-off.

My bags are packed: A young traveller girl with her fairy suitcase is ready to go

Fortress: Anarchists in blue body suits and face masks sit on the ring of steel surrounding the travellers' site

Determined: With a steely look in his eyes, an activist clad in a blue suit and face mask eyes the bailiffs circling the site

Protesters in fluorescent vests marked 'legal observer' look out this morning from the barricade of scaffolding and tyres

Meanwhile, the 18-year-old girl locked to the barricade with her accomplice, Dean, 29, insisted that they would not budge.

Lying on mattresses, the pair said they were prepared to stay as 'long as it takes'.

Dean said: 'I have studied what's going on here long and hard and believe when the law is used for wrong, civil disobedience is the only way to oppose it.

'The idea is the bailiffs cannot open this gate without killing us both. We'll sleep here for weeks if we have to.'

Another, who gave her name as Ruth, has attached herself to a car. She said: 'There are people here from all over the world and the travellers have made us so welcome.'

Despite the pleas from the travllers, Basildon Council vowed to go ahead with evicting them this afternoon.

Council leader Tony Ball also said that travellers have been offered council houses.

It is understood that the travellers would bypass the waiting list for homes.

'We do not have the land available to provide legal sites for all of those evicted from the site. We have made the travellers aware of all the legal and authorised sites in the country.

'We have offered council accommodation to the those who qualify under the housing legislation. There's absolutely no need for elderly or vulnerable or young children to be living by the roadside. That would be their choice.'

But campaigner Grattan Puxon said: 'They only wanted to talk about peaceful eviction, not an alternative site for the homeless, so as far as we're concerned negotiations are off and we're preparing for the bailiffs to move in.'

Asked how the Prime Minister viewed today's eviction, David Cameron's official spokesman said: 'This is obviously a matter for the local council and for the police and we wouldn't want to comment on the operation.

Activists from around Europe mill about the site as their comrades lie on mattresses in preparation for the showdowns ahead

Stealth: An activist, possibly a Marxist from Germany, moves along scaffolding, and right, a woman looks out from her position

Tactics: Travellers have sprayed emotive messages on the shacks in a bid to deter bailiffs from knocking them down

Elderly: The travellers claim that inside this caravan is a woman with breathing difficulties

'On the basic case, he was very clear at Prime Minister's Questions last week that the British courts have found that the development at Dale Farm is illegal. There has been an unprecedented level of unauthorised development on green belt land that's resulted in years of negotiation at significant cost to the taxpayer.

'As he said at PMQs, everybody in this country has to obey the law, including the law on planning permission.'

The Government has also turned down an offer by the United Nations to help broker an agreement between the travellers and the council, it was claimed today.

Jan Jarab, the European representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Guardian: 'We offered to be part of a negotiation to try and arrive at a less dramatic solution at Dale Farm.

'There was communication between the British Government and our headquarters, but it was made clear to us that we would receive a letter that that offer was rejected.

'It is terribly sad and I am disappointed. A forced eviction is a dramatic event for the people concerned.'

Mr Jarab told the paper the Dale Farm clearance operation was 'very symbolic' and sent a message across the European Union that the Government backed an "eviction-based approach".

Today's action came after several ‘war meetings’ yesterday, in which the leaders of the protesters gave rabble-rousing speeches to an excited mob whose ranks have been swelled by a ‘foreign legion’ of activists at the site in Crays Hill, Essex.

Swedish Marxists and German campaigners, as well as British university students, are among those who are planning to chain themselves to the fences to frustrate the bailiffs.

Travellers surrounded their caravans with lethal gas canisters last night and said they would lock themselves in their homes when the bailiffs arrived.

One woman said she would only leave Dale Farm ‘in a body bag’.

One anarchist said: ‘It’s going to be brutal and it’s going to be bloody. We are calling it the Battle of Basildon. We will fight off the bailiffs with everything we have. They are not going to get through our defences.’

Supporters opposed to the eviction of travellers from Dale Farm in Essex have started building a wall in front of an entrance hours before bailiffs are due to clear the illegal site

As a wall goes up at Dale Farm, some residents, who say they have nowhere to go if they are evicted, fear their homes will be destroyed

Protest groups used internet forums to urge members to go to the camp. One message read: ‘Get down to Dale Farm as soon as possible and bring black clothing and balaclavas.’

Supporters inside the site said their demand to Basildon Council is to provide 62 plots as temporary housing for those made homeless while planning permission is sought for other sites.

They said the council has asked for a small legal wall blocking the bailiffs' way to be removed and for two bailiffs to be allowed to look inside the site.

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

Final plea: 'Don't make us homeless'. Pictures of the children of Dale Farm have been placed at the gate

Barricaded: An activist eats soup as he guards the entrance to the Dale Farm traveller site yesterday

Resident Kathleen McCarthy, Yvonne MacNamara from the Irish Traveller Movement, and Joe Jones and Richard Sheridan from the Gypsy Council are due to meet council delegates outside the gate for discussions after 10am.

Last night groups of traveller women had what could be their final party at the site and drank until midnight while listening to Rihanna and singing traditional songs.

One said: 'If this is our last night in our homes, we're going to enjoy it.'

Others said they were sitting the party out as they planned to carry on as normal today - including sending their children to school beyond the barricades.

Protest poster: A resident explains why she thinks the eviction should not go ahead

'It's our home too': Children of Dale Farm urge for a final reprieve

Resident Kathleen McCarthy said: 'We won't go, we simply will not go. We will chain ourselves to whatever we can to stop the bailiffs.

'We've all experienced bailiffs before and are terrified of what they'll do. But sometimes you've got to stand up for yourselves. If they had any human decency this could be stopped, I plead and beg to stop this.'

One of the leading supporters, Grattan Puxon, said: 'The gate is closed but talks with the council are going on behind the scenes. The council owes us 62 pitches for those who will be made homeless.

'We have a High Court hearing at 11am so there is still hope this will pass quietly.'

Hours earlier, representatives of Basildon Council tried to meet travellers at Dale Farm to negotiate a peaceful 11th-hour solution. But anarchists manning the front gate refused to allow them on to the site.

With no direct line of communication with the travellers, the council fears the anarchists are now ‘calling the shots’.

A caravan leaves Dale Farm ahead of the expected arrival of bailiffs acting on behalf of Basildon Council, and right, a young girl gestures as emotions run high

An elevated view shows how the themselves illegally on the land at Dale Farm
Essex Police say up to 2,000 activists from 30 groups will arrive at the six-acre plot near Basildon.

Riot officers from other forces including the Metropolitan Police, Thames Valley, Norfolk and Suffolk will be on standby, but Essex Police declined to say how many officers were involved in the multi-million pound operation to evict 400 people.

Chief Superintendent Tim Stokes, who is in charge of the operation, said: ‘We have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. We could face violent disorder, a drawn-out stand-off or peaceful resistance.

‘We believe there will be people on the site who are intent on violence and we must police them rigorously and robustly. There are travellers on the site who value the presence of the supporters but there are also some who are fearful of them.’

Basildon Council’s bailiffs have occupied a neighbouring farm and will use heavy machinery to smash the barricades.

Mother-of-three Kathryn Flynn, who has lived at Dale Farm for ten years, said: ‘I’m moving to my uncle’s yard... I don’t want my children to go through this. I’m scared of what the bailiffs will do.’

But Mary McCarthy said: ‘I’ve faced constant evictions throughout my life and now I’m determined to stay put.’

Basildon Council leader Tony Ball said: ‘We now have no line of communication to the Dale Farm residents. We are very concerned that tension has increased and it may now make our job of clearing the site in a safe and orderly manner even more difficult.’

John Baron, Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay, said: 'I'm hoping for a peaceful solution to this and a peaceful site clearance.

'I think we are going to see a fair bit of negotiation in order to achieve that. But at the end of the day this is a site clearance.'

Mr Baron added that the clearance would not be rushed.

'We have always had moral right on our side in this argument, and I want us to maintain that moral right, right through to the end.

'This site will be cleared, but I don't want to sacrifice moral right for speed,' he said.

Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on travellers, said that the Dale Farm eviction should be put on hold.

Mr George told Sky News: 'The Government and the local authority are going to be spending up to about £18 million to restore the site to what it originally was, presumably - and that is a scrapyard. It's going to make it the most expensive scrapyard in history.

'I think that both to save money and to be more humane and also to ensure that the people living on this site are given a genuine opportunity to find somewhere else to live or even to regularise the arrangements on that site, they need to be given time rather than sadly - and I think very inappropriately - to be going ahead with the evictions today.

'Simply to make people homeless and to tell them to move onto some other site, when they know full well there are no other alternative sites, is just telling people to move from one illegal situation to another.'



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