It’s been an odd few days.
Last Sunday, some of us from York headed down to Essex to visit Dale Farm, the largest traveller site in the UK, currently facing eviction by Basildon council in an act condemned by some as nothing short of ethnic cleansing. This being done by a council which, like councils up and down the country, is slashing services, selling off resources and making people redundant, yet which can apparently afford to throw a third of its budget at expelling travellers on the pretext of returning the area to “greenbelt” status – a claim undermined by the fact much of the area was concreted by that very same council before the travellers even owned the land.
The company contracted to carry out the evictions, Constant and Co, have built up a notorious reputation from their being hired to get rid of travellers, squatters and various other undesireables over the years, including the Twin Oaks and Meadowland traveller evictions of 2004. Corporate Watch, writing in 2009 (when Dale Farm was again under threat of eviction), said of the company:
During last year’s High Court appeal, the Dale Farm Housing Association submitted a detailed dossier, comprising 26 pages, photographs and video footage, about Constant & Co.’s conduct during the Hovefields eviction three years ago. The evidence showed that Constant had ignored health and safety regulations, such as carrying out operations with heavy machinery while children were present and failing to enclose demolition sites with fencing. Constant is also known to have smashed travellers’ caravans and mobile homes and, on one occasion, ignored a High Court injunction not to enter a traveller-owned property.
Various institutions and individuals have weighed into the issue, including Amnesty International, Vanessa Redgrave, two bishops, and even the United Nations. On the ground, meanwhile, supporters have flooded in from around the UK and further afield to show their support, provide legal observers, help build barricades, and simply to make it clear that the site won’t be cleared without a fight.
The atmosphere on Monday was little short of surreal. Children playing and laughing while nearby, an activist was D-locked by the neck to the front gate of the camp; chilled out reggae playing from a soundsystem while folks in blue boiler suits erected barricades with scaffolding and tyres; sitting and having a cup of tea, reading a book, all the while knowing that at a moment’s notice the place could be under attack from bailiffs and police.
Eventually, in the late afternoon, word came through that the High Court had granted an injunction delaying the eviction until a court hearing on Friday, later extended to 4pm, Monday 26th. What happens then is hard to say. But one thing is certain: if the court goes against the travellers, there will be resistance. Supporters have issued a callout for people to come down and and take part, while regular updates can be found via their blog and Twitter accounts.
In closing, here are some words from Kate Evans, one of the travellers facing eviction:
My family is not homeless. We have a beautiful home that almost certainly consumes less water and electricity than yours. It makes no sense to forcibly remove us from it to put us in an expensive pile of bricks and mortar. There is incredible pressure on public housing in this country, yet Travellers – a group with the self-reliance to create their own housing solution – are being denied the opportunity to do so. All we are asking for is space. It has been estimated that one square mile would provide for all the Travellers who are currently being shunted from one unauthorised site to the next.
We’re not actually asking to live in your backyard. Just a mile or so down the road.