Important events are afoot at Dale Farm. The Dale Farm Housing Association undertook a brief two day survey on the impact to the residents of an eviction. We got statements from a little over 15 people at Dale Farm. Many of the residents at Dale Farm have been evicted from other sites and all have had a lifelong experience of being “driven from pillar to post” as they express it. The general mood seems to be one of defiance. One older gentleman who had the experience of being beaten by bailiffs (private security) from the firm Constant & Co. at an eviction at Hovefields predicted a “blood battle” if an eviction was attempted at Dale Farm. However, legal developments may spare Dale Farm residents from such an encounter.
On Monday a legal review of Basildon District Council’s decision to evict began at the High Courts in London. A bus full of residents of Dale Farm made the journey down to the High Courts and staged a small peaceful protest. They were joined by representatives from the Irish Traveller Movement, Gypsy Council, and other pro-gypsy groups. With the Gypsy/Traveller flag flying and under a large banner reading “Stop Evictions” the residents talked to media and passers-by, giving their personal experience of the never-ending cycle of eviction and relocation that characterizes Traveller life.
The Traveller’s protest was somewhat eclipsed by Sir Paul McCartney’s divorce proceedings that began at the high courts on the same day. Since many of the Travellers are McCarthys, and the Irish accent making McCarthy and McCartney indistinguishable, the joke of the day was to go up to news media and tell them to point their cameras that way if they wanted a picture of a bunch of McCarthys.
Meanwhile, in the courtroom, the barrister arguing for the Travellers seemed to be basing his arguments on two pillars. One was the proportionality argument: i.e. does the benefit of eviction to the council (integrity of the greenbelt and of the planning process) outweigh the impact on the Traveller’s lives?
The other argument was on whether the council had adequately assessed the need for Gypsy and Traveller sites in its planning procedures and whether such was taken into account before opting to evict. Related to this was the question of whether the council had taken into account whether the Travellers had anywhere else to go, as government guidance suggests, before opting for an enforcement action.
The judge stated plainly that staying at Dale Farm without permission from the Basildon Council was illegal and that the residents would need to go somewhere else barring another decision from the council. However, the judge also seemed to be cognizant of the overall predicament the Travellers face in there being a shortage of Gypsy sites that forces them to live on illegal sites if they are to live anywhere at all.
The barrister for the Travellers made a strong argument against the Basildon district’s assertion that it had “done enough” to provide Gypsy sites and that it already had “too many” Gypsies and Travellers in its district. The barrister made the analogy of a district in London saying that it had “too many” Pakistanis or Indians and that no more could settle there. In this way, the barrister argued against the idea that there should be a racial quota of gypsies and Travellers in a certain region.
A promising development for both the Travellers and the Basildon district, as reported yesterday in the Basildon Echo was the judge’s promise that there would be a review of the manner in which evictions were carried out by “Gypsy eviction specialists” Constant & Co. Let us hope that the legal system will finally recognize and put a stop to the heavy-handed tactics employed by this agency in their treatment of gypsies and Travellers. This would not only benefit the Travellers who have to suffer the tactics of these private bailiffs, but would also avoid an ugly scene in the Basildon district which would reflect badly on the image of Basildon as a whole.
The barrister for Basildon council will close his arguments on Thursday, with the judge estimating a decision sometime after Easter. Another delegation of residents will be going down to London on Thursday for the closing arguments.
Posted By James Dasinger
Posted Feb 12th, 2008