Date: Fri, September 30, 2005 8:45 am

Ustiben report


A mother described at a tribunal yesterday (30 Sept) how her home was bulldozed and her children terrorised because people in a picturesque English village didn't want Gypsies as neighbours.

Margaret McCann, aged 33, who is bringing up three children on her own, told how her brother had paid $30,000 for a plot of land so that she could start a secure life in the village of Little Waltham, Essex.

Three times planning applications had been sent in to Chelmsford borough council. But each time chief planning officer Christine Lyons had found a technical fault in forms submitted and rejected them, said her representative Dr Donald Kenrick.

It was not until six months after evicting Mrs McCann and 20 other families that the council even considered their planning permit cases.

"We were following government advice when we bought that land," Mrs McCann told planning appeals inspector Mark Beard at Chelmsford Civic Centre. "My property ended getting smashed and looted by the bailiffs, my children terrorised by the riot police."

She said the bailiffs hired by Chelmsford to bulldoze Meadowlands, Gypsy removal specialists Constant & Co., had burned everything on the mobile-home park and, she alleged, stolen many things. A new quadbike, generator and refrigerator of hers had all gone missing.

The tribunal heard that unlike many others this was not a case of Travellers trying to settle in a designated Greenbelt area. The field they purchased at Cranham Road, Little Waltham, was common agricultural ground.

Since the eviction in 2004 in which a mobile-home and two other caravans were burned, Meadowlands has been severely damaged, according Grattan Puxon, author and veteran Roma rights activist. The owner of the mobile-home, Kathy Buckland, was currently suing Chelmsford for damages.

"Pig slurry has been pumped onto the land to render it uninhabitable," he told the inspector. "The entrance has been illegally blocked with concrete cylinders and a four-metre earth bank erected around the entire perimeter, without the owners' consent or planning permission."

In response to these allegations Mrs Lyons, an anti-Gypsy enforcement officer for the past l6 years, did not deny that topsoil had been destroyed and that the field was now constantly flooded. She said the council put up the banks to keep the owners out - but intended to removed them within the next few months.


After the hearing, Mrs McCann and her children led a protest outside the Civic Centre, holding Stop Evictions posters and raising a large flag, logo of the EU-sponsored European Roma and Travellers Forum. Standing among a crowd of Essex students who joined the demonstration, she said she would continue her campaign for the right to live on her own land.

Puxon said the Meadowlands eviction, one of the most brutal in recent years, showed that private companies, such as Constant & Co., habitually ignore safety regulations and endanger the lives of children and elderly people while demolishing mobile-home parks.

In the past two years, hundreds of privately-owned yards have been bulldozed, he said. It was in his opinion a case of local council using, or rather abusing, planning regulations as a smokescreen for wholesale ethnic-cleansing.

Another thousand properties were in-line for bulldozing, including over l50 homes at the virtual village known as Dale Farm, built by Travellers at Crays Hill, Essex. Basildon council has voted to spend $5 million to raise the village and force families out of the district.

Mrs McCann's appeal will now be forwarded to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, with a recommendation from the inspector. But even an unlikely recommendation to grant her a permit may not help. Last week Mr Prescott ignored such advice in the case of an appeal by four families in the London borough of Bromley, who face immediate eviction along with their 31 children.