A CANDLE-LIT COMMEMORATION recalling the death of half a million Roma during the Holocaust took place in London on 27 January, following a series of public meetings held to oppose the destruction of Britain’s largest Traveller community at Dale Farm, Essex.
“We are not likening Basildon council to the Nazis,” said Richard Sheridan, president of the Gypsy Council. “But institutions that monitor genocide around the world warn that evicting people onto the road with nowhere to go is a first step in that direction and we cannot let this happen.”
Earlier in the day, Sheridan and other Dale Farm representatives met with John Baron MP and Tony Ball, Tory-leader of Basildon District Council, for talks aimed at avoiding what could be a violent confrontation should an attempt be made to crush the ninety homes at Dale Farm, without providing acceptable alternate accommodation.
After the meeting Baron issued a statement saying he would continue to explore the possibilities for finding a peaceful resolution. “This is an earnest attempt on our part to avoid confrontation whilst ensuring that the law is upheld.”
During the course of discussion, Ball admitted that requests to the Government for up to £10m in special finding for the eviction were still being processed. Essex police, who like Basildon are suffering severe budget cuts, have been seeking such funding since last August. It seems unlikely either will get what they want.
Essex police officers believe that because of the trauma to children advance notice of the date of the eviction should be given. Basildon council has yet to make a decision on this point.The council, which has spent as much as £2m already on Traveller clearances and legal action, still have £2m in hand. They want to remove all illegal Travellers from the district and could mount a series of more limited eviction operations against families at Dale Farm and nearby Hovefields.
“I don’t care if the United Nations and all the Human Rights groups stand in the way,” Baron commented. “Make no mistake we intend to carry this through.”
Just how many so-called unauthorized Travellers there are in Basildon will be revealed again when the results of the nation-wide caravan-count which took place on 27 January are announced shortly. Basildon has a duty under housing law to provide a minimum of 62 new pitches for homeless Travellers. Meanwhile, the Gypsy Council has put forward its proposals for a resolution of the impasse. Cllr Candy Sheridan told the meeting at Portcullis House that she would shortly be submitting a planning application on behalf of Dale Farm Residents Association for the development of a model mobile-home park on land in Basildon offered by the Homes and Communities Agency.
“Funding is available and this could be done at no cost to the local council,” Cllr Sheridan emphasised.
Ball responded by saying such a plan would be considered. However, he requested in return that the Gypsy Council make every effort to locate land outside the district to which remaining Dale Farm families could move. It is progress on this point which will be on the agenda of the next meeting, to be held on 1 March.
Father Dan Mason, whose church is attended by many Travellers, reminded the meeting that it was possible there would be a change of administration in Basildon after the May local elections. Ball confirmed that both Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors oppose the eviction as inhuman and a waste of money, and wanted Dale Farm left as it is.
An expected High Court hearing, Grattan Puxon noted, could result in an order obliging Basildon to provide a secure location to which families who have turned down council housing can move their caravans, mobile-homes and chalets.
After a minute’s silence at the evening commemoration held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Gypsy women’s representative Rachel Francis told of vigilante activity outside a caravan park at Meriden, which the organizers were planning to spread to other Travellers’ properties. She called for action to meet this challenge.
A number of people added their names to scores of those who have pledged to camp out at Dale Farm when an eviction attempt is imminent.
ACTIVITY DAYS at Dale Farm have been scheduled for 2, 3, 12 and 19 February. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to take part.