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Dale Farm prepares to counter eviction

By Grattan Puxon, January 2009

Dale Farm residents will hold what looks like being a war council on Sunday to decide what can legally be done to counter an Appeal Court ruling which has opened the way for the destruction of Britain's largest Gypsy village.

Women were in tears yesterday when thenews came through that judges had decided Basildon councillors had been within their rights to vote for a three million euro directaction operation against Dale Farm.

Last night lawyers acting for the community were waiting for the go-ahead to mount an appeal to the House of Lords. But it is uncertain the UK's highest court will agree to hear the case.

An application to the European Human Rights Court is also a possibility. However, due to the anticipated two-year delay such a move would involve it is doubtful British judges would grant a stay of execution on Basildon's plan to evict.

More immediate is the issue of homelessness which now arises since the 90 families on the unauthorised part of Dale Farm have nowhere legally to live.

Today (23 Jan) Kathleen McCarthy, vice-chair of Dale Farm Housing Association is submitting a joint homeless application on behalf of some 300 related residents.

Next week, scores of other residents will register as homeless with Basildon District Council. Council leader Malcolm Buckley has conceded that BDC has a duty to provided accommodation for everyone whose application is accepted.

The processing of the homeless issue may take some weeks. But set against this is the fact that a similar joint application was rejected last year and more than two dozen families were turned down for re-accommodation on the basis that they had intentionally rendered themselves homeless.

Nevertheless, having given the Court of Appeal an undertaking to comply with its obligations to the homeless the BDC has now to demonstrate that every step of the process is rigorously pursued. Othewise it could face a further judicial review challenge.

Men-folk at Dale Farm have vowed not to abandon their homes without a fight. But if compelled to do so plans are in hand to move onto land nearby owned by the community and presently used for grazing horses.

"We can legally camp on this land for up to a month," said DFHA chairman Richard Sheridan, who is also president of the Gypsy Council.
"If we do that the council will be faced with another long legal battle to get us off."

Talks have already been held with the Red Cross, which has donated a large tent for what would initially be a tent city. Some 25 wooden huts, in use at Dale Farm, would be relocated.
If as during previous evictions caravans are towed away by bailiffs and pounded, it may be several days before they can be re-claimed and brought back to the new encampment.

The local Catholic church is willing to provide temporary shelter for mothers, children, the sick and elderly in two church halls. Transport would be provided by the Red Cross and other agencies, including Essex Racial Equality Council.

"The High Court ruled that the council had discriminated unlawfully against the Travellers," stated solicitor Keith Lomax yesterday."That finding was not challenged in the Appeal Court."

In the political arena Basildon's Labour Party has branded the eviction decision racially tainted. Some clergy say it will be an act of ethnic-cleansing.

More practically, Julie Morgan MP has endorsed an appeal by the DFHA to the EU Civil Protection agency. This asks the EU to help avert what Morgan is calling a humanitarian disaster.

In addition, the UK Children's Commissioner is insisting that Malcolm Buckley spell out what steps the council is taking to ensure the safey of children during an eviction and what alternative accommodation is being provided for them.

Meanwhile, the Gypsy Council is bringing together a team of human rights monitors to oversee the eviction. It will be headed by Gypsy Council secretary Joseph Jones, who was recently appointed an expert to the UN Advisory Group on Forced Evictions.

"The UN has approved the setting up in London of an eviction monitoring mission,"
Jones explained. "Our first priority will be to report on the conduct of any eviction attempt at Dale Farm."

Those who have offered their services as monitors include Lord Avebury, Nick Harvey MP and Dr Dimitrina Petrova, director of the Equal Rights Trust.

It is expected that in the near future meetings will take place with senior police officers and council officials to discuss evacuation of children and sick persons before heavy machinery is brought onto Dale Farm. Strict adherence to health and safety regulations will be insisted upon by community representatives, backed by Essex Fire & Rescue.

The Gypsy Council has documentary evidence that Constant & Co. bailiffs, contracted by Basildon for previous evictions, has frequently ignored safety regulations and acted with brutality towards women and children. Carvans have been burned and many personal belongings unnecessarily trashed.