The Fight for Dale Farm
The entrance to Britain's biggest travellers site is barricaded
against police and bailiffs. Protestors outnumber the remaining
travellers and today marks the final phase for the fight over Dale Farm.
This morning's eviction comes as The Government gets tough on illegal
sites. 'Dispatches' investigates the battle between the travelling
community, their neighbours and the law.
Gypsies and travellers say there aren't enough places for them to
live. We investigate why some people don't want them next door and we
ask how far these minority groups can keep their culture and still
integrate with the wide world.
This Dale Farm in Essex. For the last few months Dispatches has been
following events here. Its the larget travellers site in the country and
the most controversial. Half is legal, half is not.
Over the last 10 years the site's doubled in size, without plannin
permission. 400 people on the illegal side now face eviction. The scale
of it has turned Dale Farm into a national issue. The human rights of
gypsies and travellers versus a new political determination to crack
down on i8llegal development.
Late June; a crucial council meeting of Basildon Council. Outside
travellers and supporters protest "We have a rights. We have a
right to live somewhere and we've chosen Basildon, fifty of the children
are born here. We shall survive and we shall live on in Basildon.".
But, there's been 6 years of legal judgments all the way to the Supreme
Court ruling against them.
The eviction could cost 18 million pounds and last for weeks.
Inside the meeting, with no cameras allowed, councillors vote through
the money to pay the police and bailiffs if the travellers won't go
voluntarily, and they won't.
The legal half of the site was given planning permission in the
nineties, that will stay. The illegal half, which is due for eviction.
grew up in last 10 years. Travellers were encouraged to buy their own
land after The Conservatives abolished the duty of councils to
provide sites, in the mid nineteies.
9 years ago, one family bought the land next to the existing site, it
was cheap because it was green-belt land with no permission for housing.
When caravans move in anyway, the council took legal action.
Local opinion is mixed:
These people are using the law, but they won't abide by the law. They
want it all there own way.
I think, really, they should be left where they are. They're a
community, they're a family.
People are frightened that if there's any spare land near them,
they'll take it over.
Speaking to Mary, one of the travellers, our interviewer asks "Some
of the residents will say you are trying to be made a special case. They
have to get planning permission." Mary responds "I agree 100%
with them. We have a heart. We do understand where they're coming from,
but they also must understand that the council have got to provide for
Many of the homes on the legal side are deserted. Dale Farm's residents
are Irish travellers and, like English gypsies in Summer, thay travel.
Estimates of numbers for both groups reached 300,000. Half live in
caravans, half in houses. Whatever they call home, many prefer the road
in Summer. That causes problems across the country.
In Greenleas, Brighton the travellers have set up camp directly behind
people's gardens. The locals are outraged. Complaints range from
intimidation to waste and excrement.
What happened next, followed a pattern. It took the council a few
days to get an eviction order and just before it was enforced, the
travellers moved on, but not far. 3 weeks and two more court orders
later, they were in Wild Park. Some said they had a permanent site in
Swindon, this was just Summer travelling, but they refused to be
interviewed. The men constantly came and went looking for building or
Next to their caravans, only accessible by driving
between them, qere pile of tree-cuttings and other rubbish. When the
police arrived one woman claimed their husbands weren't to blame. She
said it must have been outsiders. Although fly-tipping is illegal, the
council told us they prosecuting abyone, they'll just clear it up.
Nationally, councils spend about 18 million pounds each year evicting
and cleaning up after gypsies and travellers on unauthorised sites.
Candy Sheridan is on the National Gypsy Council and also related to the
extended fasmilies who live here. A crisis meeting is hoping that a
court order can delay the eviction due in 3 weeks.
The plight of the vulnerable, the young, old and sick, is what concerns
them most. The life-expectancy of travellers is 10 years below the
national average and many people here have chronic health problems.
Many of the activists arriving here are seasoned campaigners who have
witnessed other evictions. One of whom comments "Any evictions I've
seen have seen quite a lot of violence from police and bailiffs,
we're here to try to support the travelling community to prevent that
from happening and prevent those human rights abuses occurring."
The same firm of bailiffs is used in many evictions. After one
eviction the firm was criticized by a judge for excessive behaviour. The
same firm will be used at Dale Farm. The council say they've instructed
the firm to take a softly, softly approach this time, but that doesn't
satisfy activists ate Dale Farm like Ann. "Even if the bailiffs
behave with the utmost professionalism and cultural sensitivity,
eviction is inherently a violent process. You are destroying somebody's
For the leader of Basildon Council this is the end of a long legal
and political battle. Tony Hall "I'm totally aware of the humanitarian
issues, but I see very little choice that the travellers have left us to
do, To uphold the law has to be our number one priority. Basildon
already has 112 legal pitches on one council site and several private
ones. Mr Hall "One of the issues at Dale Farm is you have up to 90
families who all want to stay together. That's against a;; government
guidelines on gypsy/traveller sites."
As part of widespread reform, the coalition wants to give councils more
powers to decide local housing and planning issue including provision
they make for travellers. No longer would they have to meet a target
number of places imposed by the government. But, there's alraedy a
national shortage of several thousand caravan places. Authorities like
Leeds are caught between public outrage if they spend money on more
sites and furious reaction if they don't.
Several gypsy families stay around Leeds, but there's no space on any
council or private sites. Wherever they stop, within days, bailiffs move
them on. "They won't give us places to stay, won't give us sites,
they won't build us sites." In one year gypsies moved between 70
different sites. Its often the same family and the council is forced to
repeat the same, expensive, excercise, over and over again.
So, rather than spend another 3 million to no effect, they're
considering spending half that to provide some permanent places and the
courts have forced their hand. Without the council providing facilities
they won't keep issuing inunctions or eviction orders.
But, the courts haven't supported Dale Farm. The law is clear, half
the site is illegal, but the travellers haven't given up yet.
At the high court, actress Vanessa Redgrave add her support to the
protestors trying to secure a delay to their eviction. They argue some
residents are too ill to leave, the jusge expresses concern but says the
6 year legal battle is now over. They won international support from
religious leaders and European politicians to no avail. While the battle
for Dale Farm grabs the headlines, across Britain there are smaller
skirmishes happening all the time over pemanent and temporary sites for