Protest rally outside Royal Courts of Justice
Friday 24 September
Travellers under pressure to abandon community living
A High Court protest is taking place outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday (24 Sept) between 11am and 12 noon in support of Matilda Boswell who is seeking a judicial review of Basildon's decision to evict her and other families still at Hovefields, Wickford.
By Grattan Puxon
Though facing imminent eviction, a senior couple have made it known to a judge that they can't accept a council flat because their lives depend on staying within their ethnic community.
John and Mary Flynn's case before Southend County Court, adjourned for a month on Thursday (16 Sept) seemly likely to become a test of the right of Travellers to maintain some essential elements of their traditional mode of living.
Married daughter Michelle Sheridan, who also lives at Dale Farm, Crays Hill, the large Traveller community under threat of destruction by Tory-led Basildon council, said after the initial hearing that her elderly parents would not survive an eviction.
"They would be dead within a week," commented Mrs Sheridan. "The council might as well shoot us all."
Like thousands of Gypsies around Britain, what the Flynns are asking is that they be allowed a secure place to live together in an extended family group inhabiting their own mobile-homes, small chalets and caravans. They had bought land at Dale Farm but have been refused a permit as the old cleaned-out scrap yard falls within a greenbelt zone.
Basildon has long refused to accept the need to re-accommodate some hundred Gypsies families at Dale Farm and nearby Hovefields in the manner they request. The Travellers say they want to stay where they are but would develope their own sites elsewhere if given permission.
Up until now council leader Tony Ball, pledged to resign if he does not get the Travellers out by next May's election, has claimed there is no spare land. However, a government body has stepped in offering several locations. The Homes and Communities Agency says Travellers are welcome to live on any of its land-holdings, providing Basildon agrees.
Possibly embarrased by this offer and upset over media leaks, Basildon made a surprise announcement at the county court to the effect that it was breaking off any further negotiations with the Travellers.
Undeterred, Dale Farm Housing Association has submitted a planning application to create a mobile-home park on an HCA site at Pound Lane, Lainden.
Unfortunately, the HCA proposal has not helped families evicted earlier this month in a brutal operation at Hovefieldss, Wickford. They saw their homes bulldozed by Gypsy eviction specialists Constant & Co and have been forced out on the road with nowhere to go.
Out of seven families, two sisters alone found a legal plot in Braintree. Others headed for Kent while four caravans ended up on a car-park belonging the HCA but leased to Selex Systems. Ignoring a legal requirement to consider welfare needs, Essex police moved them on the next day despite the presence of two pregnant mothers, a lad with learning difficulties and small children who had just been through the trauma of seeing their homes bulldozed.
Worse, the notorious s61 of the Criminal Justice Act l994, a piece of legislation which has proved to be the death knell of the old travelling life, was used against them again that night when they tried to find respite at a car-wash forecourt. Exhausted, the four families next day again entered HCA land at Gardiners Lane, Basildon, one of the locations proposed for a permanent site.
But this time the HCA itself objected and the police issued another s61 order forcing them to take to the road once more. Landing up somewhere in Bedfordshire, one mother feared she would abort and called a midwife. Only after a plea from the midwife would Bedforshiore police allow the families to remain the rest of that night on some factory land.
Essex University Human Rights Law Clinic is now preparing a complaint against the police for repeated misuse of s61 which it says may have amounted to deliberate harassment.
The situation facing Gypsies in Britain, similar to and not unrelated to that of Roma across Europe, unscored as it is by an inexplicable and deep-rooted racial prejudice, will be aired in the courts again shortly.
Alone among the families at Hovefields, Matilda Boswell was able to obtain an injunction stopping Basildon from busting up her little property. On 24 September at the High Court she will be seeking a judicial review of the council's decision to enforce planning law without first fulfilling its duties towards her as a homeless person.
As at Southend last week, Travellers and Gypsies will protest outside the court with their growing number of supporters against what they feel is a concerted and relentless effort to pressure them to abandon their community-based life.
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22 September 2010