BASILDON: BULLDOZER LAW< PUTS TONY BLAIR ON TRIAL<
By Grattan Puxon
A dramatic legal victory this month has highlighted the possibility that the UK government would face international condemnation should threats to bulldoze Britain's largest Gypsy settlement be carried out.
The proposed raising of a hundred homes at Dale Farm would trigger damages claims totalling anything up to eight million euro. But in addition the Labour Government itself could be challenged under European law.
Lawyers representing residents at Dale Farm and nearby Hovefield, both threatened with destruction by Basildon district council, have been alerted by the news that 300,000 Roma in Greece have won an unprecedented case against their own government.
Dale Farm representative Kathy McCarthy plans to deliver a warning to Prime Minister Tony Blair next week stating that eviction by Basildon would violate Article l6 of the European Social Charter.
"The law is on our side," she said. "We intend to get a hearing before a judge as soon this is possible."
It is Article l6, guaranteeing protection of family life and accommodation for all EU citizens, which has been broken by Greece, according to a ruling on 8 June from the European Committee on Social Rights.
The European Roma Rights Centre, which brought the complaint, says it marks a turning point in legal efforts to end systematic human rights abuse of Roma from the Ukraine to the United Kingdom. In Britain, more than 300 private plots owned by Gypsies have been flattened and closed down in the past l8 months.
However, one family has this week reoccupied a closed plot at Bulkington, scene of two violent evictions by Constant. Legal proceedings have been initiated.
"Evictions are illegal," says Claude Cahn, the EERC acting director. "Any country that allows such a policy to continue is now exposing itself to a similar conviction."
As to the intention of Basildon to evict ten Gypsy families at Hoverfield, preparations are being made to seek a judicial review of that decision. Dale Farm residents are already suing under the Human Rights Act in respect of earlier evictions they suffered in neighbouring Hertfordshire.
Strengthening the case against Britain is the recent report by the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles. He says present policy fails to meet accommodation and other basic needs and that racism against Gypsies is rampant.
Meanwhile, an appeal is being made to Basildon councillors by members of the Jewish community not to go ahead with evictions. Ruth Barnett, who escaped the Nazi persecution in Germany, says she is concerned both for the families involved and for the reputation of Britain.
She is asking members of the council committee which meets on Tuesday (21 June) to think again about the families at Dale Farm, in particular the children, and not to make a decision they could later regret.
A Jewish human rights monitoring team is being formed to witness the direct action operation by Constant & Co., a company which styles itself as Gypsy eviction specialists. The firm has submitted a blueprint for the domolition of what is virtually a village at Crays Hill, Essex. It carries a price-tag of three million euro.
Others preparing to observe the mass-demolition include Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey. Some members of Basildon council have expressed their opposition to the operation and a petition signed by local residents is to be presented soon.
Roma representatives will be reporting on the crisis to the Romanu union parliament meeting in Belgrade on 1 July. The planned destruction of Dale Farm has been condemned by Romani organisations in France, Germany and Serbia, as well as the US, Canada and Australia.