A fresh UN intervention in the looming crisis provoked by the 25-million-euro plan to destroy half the Gypsy-owned Dale Farm estate offers what looks like the last opportunity for a peaceful solution. This ten-year siege has produced many surprises, and a way out at the eleventh hour would be the biggest and most welcome.
The UN is urging UK authorities to halt the eviction and reach an agreement with residents. A right to compensation as well as adequate alternate accommodation is emphasised.
No surprise that these are the aims of ongoing negotiations between Dale Farm representations and Basildon Borough Council. It precipitated the crisis back in 2002 by announcing its intention to bulldoze
a large proportion of the estate for the purpose of restoring the rural greenbelt.
Much of the new development has taken place on a derelict scrap-yard for which a certificate of lawfulness exists. Recent scrutiny has also revealed serious deficiencies in the enforcement orders upon
which any forced clearance must rest for its legality.
While efforts continue to reach consensus on what Basildon council may lawfully remove, should it go ahead despite the UN intervention, Essex police have been approached for their help. After all, their prime duties are to keep the peace, protect property and enforce the law.
Dealings between Britain’s 350,000 Gypsies and the police are always strained. Travellers have been for too long the subject of relentless move-ons, as well as sporadic wholesale evictions, such as now threatens at Dale Farm in Essex.
Gypsies call it back-lane ethnic-cleansing – but for once the world in watching. The outcome must colour immediate and long-term relations between the police and themselves, including newly arrived Roma who in many cases are fleeing from oppression and outright murder in other parts of Europe.
The question is can negotiations reach a satisfactory conclusion before the deadline on 31 August. Basildon has conceded that three properties cannot be cleared. But unless an agreement can be concluded covering all 54 properties, trouble is inevitable. Bailiffs, largely unsupervised at previous evictions, may need to be rained in, and that would require an entirely new approach by senior Essex police officers.
In brief, the police are being asked to ensure that the notorious Constant & Co, as agents of the council, do not overstep the limits set by law; which sounds straightforward enough. However, as a lawyer
told this writer, when it comes to Gypsies it’s almost common practice among English local authorities to over-enforce, and the police usually assist or turn a blind eye.
In this spirit the Tory Daily Express hasdescribed the operation as a joint council and police eviction. The Home Office is paying half the 12-million-euro police bill and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has given the go-ahead to carry out what would be an anti-Gypsy pogrom on British soil. In these circumstances it’s a lot to expect the police to go against the wishes of their political masters and, for once, protect the Travellers and their property.
However, there has never been a situation as now prevails regarding the future of Dale Farm. It’s attracting much media attention, here and abroad, and a growing and rapidly organizing body of support. Amnesty International is committed.
An international team of legal observers is poised to monitor the eviction; a large number of people, including Gypsies and students, have pledged to come and camp at Dale Farm in solidarity. If necessary they will form a human shield to protect the rights of the children and vulnerable elderly folk who make up most of the population.
Already half-built, Camp Constant opens on 27 August; religious leaders will be at Dale Farm on the eve of the final notice, while trade union and anti-fascist protesters will march in on 10 September.
What’s in supporters minds at the moment is whether use of non-violent resistance is in the end going to be needed. Travellers have vowed to fight. They fervently hope it won’t come to that yet are determined to be prepared.
The greatest hope is focused on a last-ditch effort through a new planning application and a possible appeal to the courts to stay the eviction.
Dale Farm families are taking heart from a victory by a Gypsy who has just won a planning appeal against Basildon. The inspector in his ruling reminded the council that it has a duty to provide 62 new pitches for homeless Travellers by the end of this year.
Unfortunately, it’s a duty which the Coalition Government is intent on wiping out by 2012 through its Localism Bill. If Basildon Tories have their way there’ll be no unauthorized Gypsies left in the district by then.