DALE FARM DEFENDS LAW< AS BASILDON DEFY COURT<
By Grattan Puxon
Residents at Dale Farm, the biggest Travellers' settlement in the UK under siege from an extreme-right wing-led local council, were furious and fearful this week following a bulldozer assault by Constant & Co., the 'gypsy eviction specialists', on a nearby trailer park.
During the partial eviction of Hovefields at Wickford on Tuesday (26 July), Mr Constant in defiance of a High Court judge, sent a giant JCB bulldozer through a private yard which had been placed under the protection of an injunction.
Extensive damage was done to the Ash View property including destruction of fencing.The owner is expected to pursue a claim for compensation against Basildon district council.
Challenged by this writer immediately after the incident, Mr Constant, standing within yards of the crushed fence, admitted the invasion contravened the court order."It should not have been done," he conceded weakly.
A Dale Farm legal representative, appraised of the incident, commented, "Mr Constant should be hauled before the High Court judge and imprisoned for contempt."
Chief Supt Sheldrake, the senior police officer present during the 'direct action operation' at Hovefield appeared to justify the intrusion by maintaining that Constant needed access across Ash View in order to clear Dunroamin, a plot adjacent to this yard.
However, it was pointed out to Chief Supt. Sheldrake that other vehicles, including a second JCB, were entering Dunroamin by way of Hovefields Drive, without encountering any problem.
DALE FARM IN DANGER
Meanwhile, notice had been served by Constant bailiffs on Dale Farm that a large-scale direct action operation would be mounted against their homes unless they quit by midnight on 31 July. They were further advised by Essex welfare authorities to consider allowing the children and the infirm to be taken to places of safety to avoid the trauma of a violent eviction.
Physical as well as mental injury to women, children and the elderly would be the inevitable result of the five million euro bulldozer-led assault on the 120 chalets, mobile-homes and caravans in the Sheridan-clan settlement, according to an assessment by Wickford Primary Care Trust.
Only at the eleventh hour residents' solicitor Keith Lomax, briefing barrister Alex Offer, was successful in obtaining an injunction extending protection to a number of yards at Dale Farm. An order by Mr Justice Richards was "intended to maintain the status quo" pending a decision on an application for a judicial review of Basildon's l8 to 21 vote to destroy the entire settlement.
That decision was based upon the racist boast of Basildon Tory leader Malcolm Buckley to rid the district of all 220 'unauthorised' caravans.
In what is regarded by lawyers as a further obstruction, Basildon council refused to accept the initial injunction as blanket coverage despite a letter (30 July) from Mr Lomax to Samuel Grindal, in their legal department, expressing the view that, "it would be contemptuous of the Council to proceed".
He further submitted that disregarding the injunction was itself a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights both of the 85 families on Dale Farm and the 50 families on the adjacent authorised Oak Lane site.
"I remind the Council that the right is of respect to family and home," stated Mr Lomax. "The decision to refuse to give an undertaking not to take action with respect to the entire site whilst an injunction was in force for the sample 26 claimants was one which no reasonable authority would make."
It clearly failed to take into account the impact on the families and the breach of their rights under Article 8. Lomax pointed out damage had already been caused by placing the population at Dale Farm under enormous stress.
He urged them not to make the same mistake that Leeds City Council made exactly five years ago on 1 August 2000 when it evicted James Connors and his family. That eviction resulted in the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (27 May 2004) which now stands as authority on the issues that will clearly come into play should the council proceed with direct action on or after Monday,1 August.
RESIDENTS FACE EVICTION
"We're nearly out of our minds with the worry," said Kathleen McCarthy, chair of Dale Farm residents'committee, on the eve of the eviction deadline. "The council won't accept the injunction and after Hovefields we can't trust the police to uphold the law."
In response to an appeal by Richard Sheridan, spokesman for Gypsy andTraveller Affairs, more than a dozen Human Rights Monitors, including a strong Jewish contingent, stayed overnight at Dale Farm. They were in place on Oak Lane when police arrived early on Monday morning.
Enlarged copies of the High Court Injunction together with the final Lomax letter had been posted at a temporary road barrier. I explained to the sargeant that vehicles, other than those of residents, required the authority of the owners of the private road if they wished to proceed into Dale Farm. Permission was presently being withheld due to the emergency created by Basildon council's failure to accept the terms of the Injunction.
After brief further discussion, the squad car was turned around and driven away. An hour later, a police request to Essex Fire and Rescue to remove the barrier was firmly refused. But to the relief of residents, Constant & Co. made no appearance and by 10 am, with the danger clearly passed, traffic was again flowing freely. Pending the Judicial Review hearing, life for the 600 residents had returned to something like normal.