Dale Farm: We Won't Quit
Faced with what many regard as a racially-motivated threat to destroy the UK's biggest Gypsy community, a hundred families at Dale Farm are now looking to British justice to save their homes from the bulldozer.
Under siege for seven years, residents learnt yesterday (28 Aug) that judges have set aside an entire week to hear their case in the High Court. Opening on 11 February in London, the judicial review could result in a mile-stone judgement effecting the lives of Romanies and Travellers throughout Britain.
"The outcome could be to stop all plans to evict us," said Dale Farm spokesman Richard Sheridan. "That would be a victory for common sense."
On the dark side however an unfavourable outcome might allow Basildon District Council to press on with the ethnic-cleansing of Travellers from the area. It has set aside five million euro for this task and has already flattened a dozen Gypsy properties.
According to local press estimates, at least one million euro of public funds have been expended so far on this policy.
A secret blue-print for the eviction of Dale Farm has been drawn-up. Nevertheless, bailiffs and police concede that attempting to drive hundreds of desperate Travellers from their homes is likely to lead to an unprecedented racial confrontation and provoke a riot.
"Our greatest fear is that a child will be killed," said Kathleen McCarthy, parent governor at the local Crays Hill Primary School. "We've had hate-mail and death threats and a lot of police harassment."
She said following notices to quit by 6 July, police helicopters constantly menaced the community. On one pretext or another, police had recently intruded into Dale Farm in six veicles and threatened residents with fire-arms.
Meanwhile, ten families are to participate in a public inquiry starting 2 October into their request to be permitted to live on their land for a further temporary period of three years. A planning inspector will make recommendations to the Secretary of State at the end of the hearings.
A similar inquiry involving 42 yards resulted earlier this year in a refusal by then Secretary of State Ruth Kelly for any additional time to be allowed Dale Farm residents, despite pleas not to end the children's education and throw eight pregnant mothers onto the road.
But since Prime Minister Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair, policy towards land use has altered. New house-building schemes mean that previous green-belt zones, such as Dale Farm, are more likely to be opened up to residential development.
In addition Tory leader of Basildon council Malcolm Buckley has wrong-footed himself on several issues involving Travellers. He has been brought to task by the Commission for Racial Equality for failing to order a race relations impact study on the outcome of his intended razing of the Dale Farm village.
The council has breached data protection law by disclosing personal details and is currently being sued for damages.
It has also failed to find an alternative site for Dale Farm families and refused all requests for re-housing of those rendered homeless. Last week Basildon rejected a joint homeless application submitted by Kathleen McCarthy on behalf of some 300 closely-related residents who refuse to be separated.
This will be the subject of an appeal in coming weeks, and may lead to another judicial review.
Even a plan to re-accommodate the most needy families on a brownfield site at Pitsea, originally recommended by then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescot, has been turned down. An appeal to allow this development will be heard in 2008.
While government plans to help the nomadic elements among Britain's 350,000 Roma and Travellers are progressingly painfully slowly, provision of more caravan parks is expected to increase after 2010.
This strengthens the case for allowing Dale Farm families to remain where they are at least for the next three years.
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