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Essex Travellers call for support

Being able to afford a home has become more difficult than ever for countless people as the credit crunch continues to bite. In a home-ownership obsessed country the dream has turned into a nightmare. But quite apart from those struggling to pay their mortgages, there is another group of people who are suffering even greater insecurity. In addition to eviction, they are now in danger of being made scapegoats for countryside blight and local and national government failure.

Up to 1,000 travellers at Dale Farm, Essex, the UK’s largest Gypsy village could be faced with eviction if Basildon District Council wins its appeal against a High Court Ruling preventing demolition of the site at a hearing on December 5.

Richard Sheridan, president of the Gypsy Council, who is speaker for the site, says that travellers at Dale Farm are suffering a gross miscarriage of justice: “The Conservative government took away the rights to remain on public land in 1994 when it repealed the 1968 Caravan Sites Act, so Travellers purchased their own. Now we are faced with eviction from land that we have purchased ourselves,” he said in a statement to A World to Win.

“The Council has breached the Data Protection Act by putting personal and medical details of 86 Dale Farm families on a public website. They are prepared to spend £3m to evict us, including nearly a million in estimated legal costs, on top of £1.9m to throw us off our site. It could cost the taxpayer up to £30 million to comply with the law if they keep us on the road – a huge waste of money.”

Sheridan will be attending an EU-sponsored Roma summit in Brussels on September 16 where he will put the case for Dale Farm’s continued existence. The gathering has been called as the Italian government criminalised its own Roma citzens. The Berlusconi government authorised dawn raids, evictions and dismantling of camps, including 40 caravans and tents near Rome.

Under Conservative leader Malcolm Buckley, Basildon council has set aside £3 million to bulldoze the 132 homes and evict travellers from their site at Crays Hill. It failed to carry out its plans in May this year, when High Court Judge Andrew Collins ordered a stay of execution for 40 families. One Labour councillor has described the threatened eviction as “an outrageous amount of money to set aside, to enforce planning laws at a former scrapyard in an anonymous country lane."

But a Basildon council development control meeting this month is likely to vote through measures which could include demolition of a small wooden school, chapel and meeting place called St Christopher’s. Martina McCarthy, who is the wife of site spokesman Richard Sheridan, has been served an enforcement notice, despite the fact that the building was built with an Essex County Council arranged grant.

The far-right British National Party is gearing up for a vicious racist campaign to out-do the Conservatives who at present control Basildon council in a hotly-contested by-election on September 18. The long-running dispute over Dale Farm is being made into a rallying cry by the BNP which is contesting all 14 local government seats.

The far right is using immigration and urban development issues to stoke up support in an area which has seen industrial development come and go, with the decline of Ford’s tractor plant (now owned by Case New Holland) and the Standard Telephone Company. Since Basildon is considered a barometer of public opinion in General Elections, the issues there are more than local.

A World to Win salutes Dale Farm organisers, Gipsy Council leaders Richard Sheridan, Joseph G Jones and Grattan Puxon, in their campaign for basic rights, to life, land, health, education and data privacy. They are calling on supporters to attend a rally on September 16 and for human rights monitors in the event of an eviction attempt after the December High Court Hearing.

Corinna Lotz
Secretary, A World to Win
5 September 2008

Rosemary says:

how dare we persecute these people and take their children from their parents. What kind of country are we to deprive children of their families the damage could be limitless.

Spi11 says:

I'm glad you bring this to the fore. It's such an important issue but it hasn't received the publicity it deserves in order to prevent the eviction from happening. The right to live is a fundamental Human Right but in the case of Gypsy & Travellers it is interpreted as the obligation to leave (from their land). I want to add my support to the Gypsy Council's efforts and to all those protesting for their right to keep on living in Dale Farm with dignity.

Please also note that there is a petition that will be submitted to the forthcoming EU meeting against the current programme of compulsory fingerprinting of Roma people in Italy for those who want to add their support.

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