Four months have now passed since Jimmy Tom’s 7th birthday. In the weeks leading up to his birthday, all he could talk about was how much he wanted to still be in his home at Dale Farm to celebrate it. Jimmy Tom got his wish, but it wasn’t at all as he had imagined. At 7 a.m. on his birthday, Jimmy Tom was woken up by the activists’ alarm sounding across the site and riot police storming past his trailer.
Photos by Mary Turner. Click here for more eviction photos.
Luckily, Jimmy Tom was hidden away inside his caravan as the heavy-handed scene unfolded outside. Scores of riot police, grouped closely together and protected by shields, stormed through a fence at the back of the site, fired Taser guns indiscriminately at residents/protestors running towards them, knocked several residents forcefully to the ground (one resulting in a fractured spine), and demolished walls and fences (protected by a court order) as they made their way through the site. Residents looked on in horror and disbelief as the site swelled with what seemed like never-ending groups of police. There was a momentary pause as Jimmy Tom’s aunt Michelle briefly held back police and made an impassioned speech telling the police that they should be ashamed of themselves and that they were in breach of the court order. Nothing, however, could stop the beginning of the end at Dale Farm.
Photos by Mary Turner and Susan Craig-Greene. Click here for more eviction photos.
I was in a bit of a daze that day. After arriving through a back way with a barbed wire gash on my head¸ I entered the site to find rows of riot police, distressed residents, burning caravans, and activists locked on to any immovable structure they could find. I am not sure what I had expected to find, but I certainly was not prepared for this. I had an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, a resounding realisation that we had failed the residents, as I walked aimlessly around the site. Even now, I haven’t lost the feeling of frustration, disappointment and disillusionment that overcame me on that day. All I could think was, “How has it come to this?”. This could have been easily avoided. Providing an alternative site or sites for the residents was, and still is, the obvious solution at Dale Farm, a long-term solution that would serve both the interests of the residents and the Council. Instead, millions of pounds have been wasted, lives and homes destroyed, and the problems for Travellers and the Council continue.
Photos by Susan Craig-Greene. Click here for more eviction photos.
In the midst of this chaos and devastation, I felt powerless but tried to help with the small things. Probably the most useful thing I felt I could do that day was to help Nora (Jimmy Tom’s mother) who was determined to give him a little piece of normality on his birthday. The community police, who have always been helpful and well-liked at Dale Farm, escorted Nora, Jimmy Tom and me off the site to my car so that we could go to Asda to buy him a cake and a few decorations. Whilst we were away, Basildon Council cut off the electricity to the trailers and residents were forced to rely on small generators and torches. For a few moments during the small celebration with his immediate family and cousins in his trailer, we shut out what was going on outside. Jimmy Tom, who has excelled during the last 2 years at the local school, was excited to read “The Gruffalo” (the book I’d got him) aloud to me several times. At one point, the generator died and he was so eager to continue, we read by the light of my phone screen. All I could think as we were reading in the dark was that this was not just about one phenomenally bad birthday for Jimmy Tom. This could mark the end of his education (if he and his family are forced onto the road) and perhaps even of his way of life (if councils like Basildon continue to refuse to work with Travellers to find them somewhere culturally suitable to live).
Jimmy Tom will always remember his 7th birthday as the day Basildon Council forced his and 50 other Traveller families from their homes at Dale Farm. I will always remember it as the day my local council failed not only this little boy, but his entire community.
Posted By Susan Craig-Greene
Posted Mar 1st, 2012