DALE FARM CHILDREN IN DANGER: Open letter to Her Majesty’s Principal Inspector of Health and Safety concerning the dangers to children posed by the Dale Farm eviction

Dear Mr Scoggins,

Let me say first that we are depending on people like you and your chair Judith Hackitt at HSE to safeguard our children, and other vulnerable persons, including pregnant mothers, the elderly and chronically ill at Dale Farm when the planned large-scale forced eviction by Basildon District Council takes place.

However, from your failure to report back to us as the originators of the complaints against Constant & Co., it appears that rather than keeping your focus strictly on the need to ensure the safety of the children by zero tolerance towards those breaching safety and health regulations, you are colluding with Basildon District Council.

If this is so, and we hope you will deny it and moreover show by future actions that safety is your only aim, you would be disregarding the dangers into which children, and of course entire families, will be thrust should they be forced out onto the road.

The latest information is that this unprecedented operation, involving the bulldozing of 52 properties and displacement of some 400 people, will take place in March. The destruction is likely to continue for two or three weeks and cost as much as £13 million in fees to Constant & Co., the bill for policing, and legal and administrative expenses. As you will be aware, the Home Office has been requested to provide special funding to Essex police.

The Billericay Primary Care Trust has warned of inevitable trauma and injury to children in particular, and in the light of their report the Children’s Commissioner has asked Basildon to take measures to safeguard Dale Farm children, both in regard to the eviction itself and their future security.

The operation, which contains a clear threat to the lives of Traveller children, has been denounced as an act of ethnic-cleaning by both Labour and Lib-Dem councillors, and clergy of the Catholic, Anglican and free churches. It is drawing opposition in many quarters. Media interest grows weekly, with television coverage already extensive and film units from Germany, France, Spain and Hungary, as well as domestic channels and freelance journalists, asking to be embedded at Dale Farm before commencement.

The situation has attracted the concern of the Essex University Human Rights Clinic, which plans to deploy at team of Legal Observers. They expect to be in a position to provide instant text and picture, and video evidence of safety breaches by Constant and others during the demolition of walls and buildings, ground extraction of electricity cables, and the many other hazardous jobs to be undertaken. The observers will watch for and report all incidents where there is clear and imminent danger to children and adults on the five-acres site.

We urge that in view of the scale of this demolition operation and the numerous dangers identified, the HSE send one or more field inspectors to oversee each phase of the work when residents, and their children, are present. It will be useful to have that inspector identified and made known to use in advance.

Bearing in mind the legal duty under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and
Occurrences Regulations l995 (RIDDOR) of all persons in control of premises to report work-related dangerous incidences, including near-miss accidents, the Legal Observers will be briefed by Dale Farm owners and occupiers (in control of premises) to make reports directly to the contacts provided on your website:

riddor@connaught.plc.uk 0843009923 and/or the Duty Officer at 01519229235
Such reports could include, i) dangerous occurrences (machinery operated close to children), ii) flammable gas incidents (hundreds of gas-containers on site), iii) electric-cables (numerous cables and meter-boxes), iv) asbestos (identified on several premises).

As indicated, and if necessary, reporting would take place out of hours in accordance with HSE guidelines where “incidents causing major disruption, such as evacuation of people, closure of roads” are taking place.
Road closures are expected and an evacuation to church halls has been proposed, while the forced ejection of families onto nearby roads must itself be treated as an evacuation, since several hundred persons would at that point have had their homes, and personal property demolished and burned.

Thank you for your letter of 15 December 2010 and your apology for the lateness of the response to our original multiple complaints concerning the serious breaches of safety law by Constant & Co., including the major incidents where children’s lives were put in danger through the movement of heavy machinery and demolition of buildings. We presume you have seen the 26-page dossier entitled Complaint Against Constant sent earlier to Mr Podger, as well as the follow-up correspondence. If not a further copy can be provided.

We cannot consider that our primary concerns, as you claim, have been dealt. Here some reasons:
a) on 7 September 2010 Constant & Co were again observed operating a heavy digger close to children (although for the first time some safety fencing had been erected)
b) while you have consulted with Constant & Co and the Local Authority (meaning Basildon District Council), you have failed to furnish the Dale Farm Housing Association with a report of your investigation or any explanation as to why Mr Brian Constant is not being prosecuted

In addition, we must note that our attempts to contact Basildon District health and safety officers have been thwarted and interfered with by senior management staff including Mrs Dawn French, who is insisting correspondence with safety officers go through her. It is necessary therefore the HSE bear in mind that you are in this case dealing with co-regulators in the local authority who are themselves tied into the authority, Basildon District Council, which is itself organizing the demolition and clearances about which our complaints are being made.

In view of this, we must request herewith under the FOI Act and Environmental Information Regulations (EIRS) that you provide us copies of:

a) our original complaints as defined and filed by the HSE
b) the Report of your investigation, particularly in relation to the incident at
Hovefields Avenue, Wickford, Essex, on 29 June 2010 when a child was inside a utility unit shortly before it was demolished by an H.E.Services digger, hired by Constant & Co (as agents of the BDC). Photographs of which incident were supplied to the HSE
c) the Risk Assessment Reports provided to you by Constant and BDE
in respect of the operations and incidents about which we complained,
and most importantly the Risk Assessment furnished for the upcoming
Dale Farm operation

As chair Judith Hackitt states on the HSE website your mission is to prevent injuries and deaths and “to prosecute those who put others at risk”. She says
herself, “our job is to protect people against risks to health and safety.” We
urge that you fulfil that comment.

To do so effectively you will need, as the independent watchdog for safety at work, to consult more closely with us; to hear the voice of those who are to be subject to acts of violent destruction, demolition and forceful removal, involving giant diggers, low-loaders and hard-hat bailiffs using sledgehammers. This on a site densely inhabited by women, several of whom are pregnant, small children, elderly and sick individuals; and where numerous gas-containers, electricity cables and buried cess-tanks, as well as some asbestos, are present, as notified to the HSE in earlier correspondence.

You say in that you are satisfied that arrangements are in place to enable any future work (including the Dale Farm eviction) to be carried out in a manner that is as safe as is reasonably practicable. If you believe that it is because you have been misled by Basildon Council representatives and the directors of Constant & Co., including Mr Constant.

With children’s lives at stake “reasonably practicable” is just not good enough and does not meet the commitments of the HSE code and charter. A similar view was taken before three children were burned to death in a trailer caravan in Walsal and another child killed on wasteland at Brownhills.

Please suggest a time and date for us to meet with you and discuss the Dale Farm eviction operation from the point of view of heath and safety law. We have much to tell you and are anxious to work with you for the aims which we both share.

Yours sincerely,
Grattan Puxon
Secretary DFHA

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