A report from an activist who has been attempting to support Traveler families, including children, who are being made homeless in the ongoing eviction.
10.50am. The Selex Systems carpark at Gardiners Way was empty when Grattan and I arrived. A large skip had been placed inside the carpark side gate which was secured with a new padlock and chain (previous one was very rusty and showed no sign of recent use.). Jake, Hazel and Elliot were also there. Mel arrived later in day.
I telephoned Eileen, she said that 8 police officers had arrived at 7.45pm to serve a s.61 Criminal Justice Act 1994, giving them 2 hours to leave. It was then raining heavily. Sr. Catherine a Catholic nun who has worked with Traveller families for many years, was visiting when police arrived. Sr. Catherine pointed out that the 4 children (all under 10 years), were in bed after a second stressful day, she asked if the group could be given leave to remain until morning. This request was refused. Fearing that their vehicles and caravans could be seized the Travellers hooked up yet again and left at approximately 9.45pm.
The group pulled in at a long-time abandoned service station off the A.127. The police arrived at midnight and served a further s.61 at 1am. giving the group until 6am to move. The group left at 6am. for the M.25 where they pulled in at South Mimms Services where staff told them they could stay for 2 hours. Eileen said none of them had slept all night. Agreed to remain in contact.
Grattan and the others went to search for any possible unused pieces of Homes & Communities owned land which he understood HCA would not object to being used temporarily pending the meeting on 13th September between Basildon District Council Planning Dept. and HCA. We had a copy of Evening Echo for today, which featured 2-page report headlined “Land Offered By Agency”, “Government body says travellers can have sites”. An HCA spokesman said “we have suggested to Basildon District Council all our land in the district could be considered.”
On my return home I contacted Sr. Catherine who confirmed what had happened on previous evening. The police had stated they had been instructed to arrive at that time in the evening. My comment: the last TV people (Channel 4) on site had left by then.
I contacted Jon Austin Evening Echo who contacted Police to query why they had changed their mind since issuing press statement yesterday that s.61 would not be used. Jon telephoned that police had responded, would not claim they had promised anything, said the Travellers could have moved by the original noon deadline. I told Jon I did not know where the Travellers were but negotiated an interview between Jon and Rocky from group, which took place during afternoon. Jon had assured me this would be a sympathetic piece solely about s.61 moves.
During the afternoon I received calls that the Traveller group had found an HCA unused piece of land in Gardiners Close, had had a friendly talk with nearby settled resident who expressed concern about what was happening to them.
15.25 approx. Police had arrived, given contact details for Councillor Candy Sheridan, a Traveller campaigner involved in negotiations with BDC & HCA, to confirm ownership of land. Apparently Candy had been in a meeting only 2 hours ago, in which Insp. Ian Carter Essex Police Equalities Unit, had stated no further s.61s should be served as it was pointless.
Police returned and broadcast a message from Chris Beard HCA, giving Travellers 30 minutes to leave, s.61 served.
I telephoned Insp. Carter by mobile and landline, not available.
I contacted Essex Assistant Chief Constable Derek Benson in overall charge of police during any eviction of Hovefields and Dale Farm sites. I left message expressing concern about the group being subject to three s.61 procedures within 16 hours. I referred to meeting I had attended on 25th June with Mr. Benson and Dale Farm Travellers and supporters where child welfare issues had been raised.
In Mr. Benson’s absence I was referred to Superintendent Stephen Warren and Superintendent Ivor Harvey at Basildon station, neither of whom answered when I called.
16.30approx.- I telephoned Chief Inspector Mark Schofield at Basildon station, who confirmed he was in charge of the current operation. He said he was not in a position to make any comment on an ongoing operation. I expressed my concerns and queried what welfare enquiries had been made about composition of group, before decision was taken to serve s.61. I referred to the presence of 4 young children and a young pregnant woman who had already undergone the stress of eviction action on the 7th and two s.61 induced moves in an 8 hour period. They were now facing yet another move with no advice on where they could go. There were no legally authorised stopping places in Essex. I referred to advice from solicitor involved, that police should make enquiries regarding welfare and could choose not to exercise s.61 powers. Chief Inspector Schofield said s.61 was a small and very clear piece of legislation which police would enforce. I stressed my legal advice, Chief Inspector Schofield advised I contact the solicitor.
I telephoned Tom Lomax solicitor, again who was about to leave office. He explained s.61 required the landowner to tell the Travellers to leave, was Chris Beard authorised to do this? If Travellers refused to leave vehicles could be impounded. Tom said if he could find someone to deal I would be contacted by him/her.
Telephoned Jake at Gardiners Close, he said he had confirmed with HCA switchboard, that Chris Beard was authorised to act for owner. Travellers were about to leave. I telephoned Grattan, who said that HCA now appeared to be saying they would not permit the Travellers to use any of its land as a temporary stopping place.
18.30-Eileen telephoned, the group had decided not to go to Dale Farm, and were on road in an exhausted state. I said I would contact Steve Andrews, Manager of Essex Co. Council Gypsy & Traveller Service, again tomorrow to check if he had found any vacant plots on Council managed sites for Eileen, her sister Ann, and Martin, Ann’s 16-year-old son, who has special needs. Martin had been showing clear signs of stress while I was at Gardiners Way on 8th.
I updated Leticia, Fr. Dan, Sr. Catherine and Susan. Fr. Dan is meeting Bishop Thomas of Brentwood tomorrow and will raise the matter. I should stress that I am relying on information received from various people present with the group today, please correct anything I have got wrong, thanks,