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Grattan Puxon

A High Court Judge yesterday (12 April) ruled as unlawful a decision by Basildon District Council to bulldoze further yards at Hovefields Avenue, a Gypsy colony not far from Dale Farm, Britain's largest Travellers' community which has been under siege for the past four years.

Mr Justice Ouseley said the council's use of direct action powers against Hovefield - part of plans to enthically-cleanse 120 Gypsy families from the district - were unlawful because it had failed to take into account the possibility that property-owners could be successful in obtaining planning permission on appeal.

"Central Government policy and previous appeal decisions were not considered', Judge Ouseley ruled. "Without these, the decision cannot be seen as proportiona or lawful."

He criticised Basildon for ignoring the recommendations contained in the latest UK Government circular on accommodation needs of Travellers. The contents of this circular, with its emphasis on provision of suitable alternative land, were spelt out during the hearing by Richard Drabble QC., representing Josie Casey and other Hovefield residents.

Tory leader Malcolm Buckley says Basildon intends to appeal against the ruling. Meanwhile, the council have also applied for a High Court injunction to prevent further removal of earth barriers surrounding yards at Hovefields, placed their by Constant & Co. to stop previously evicted residents re-occupying their properties.

"No half measures here," commented Dale Farm spokesman Richard Sheridan. "The council want to stop owners even keeping a few chickens on that land - let alone rearing their children there."

However, it is doubtful whether the injunction in fact renders unlawful the mere movement of earth on what is agricultural land. Two other local authorities have in similar circumstances admitted that owners have a right of way for purposes of placing animals on their greenbelt properties.

As part of celebrations marking Roma Nation Day on 8 April, some 30 Travellers, Roma and supporters dug away part of one of the embankments surrounding a cleared yard at Five Acres Farm. The purpose was draw attention to the illegal blocking of the owners' right of way onto their property.

Costant & Co., assisted by H.E.Services and the Terranoba Group, cleared two yards at Hovefields on 26 July last year. A further four yards were bulldozed on 21 March. In the course of these operations, serious damage was done to the property of Mrs. Gilheaney, owner of Ash View, a property under protection of a High court injunction.

The Dale Farm judicial review hearing is expected next month. Some forty planning appeals in respect of yards there have been scheduled to start on 1 August.