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Dale Farm: The human cost of prejudice

As the displaced residents of Dale Farm in Essex face another round of forced evictions, Elly Robson talks to some of the families and examines the discrimination they face
March 2012

Photo: Mary Turner

The storming of Dale Farm by hundreds of riot police at dawn on 19 October 2011 was the money shot that the press had been waiting for following weeks of legal proceedings; the next day they all went home. But three months down the line, the eviction continues for the Dale Farm community, unreported. Their former home has been systematically destroyed by Constant & Co. bailiffs, who have transformed this once vibrant and close-knit community into a sewage-filled bombsite. With nowhere else to go, the vast majority of the displaced Travellers now live on the private road (owned by them) leading to Dale Farm and on their friends’ plots on the neighbouring Oak Lane site. Living in overcrowded conditions, they lack adequate access to water and toilet facilities, the only electricity supply is through noisy and expensive generators, and many of the young children and elderly people are ill. It is an unreported refugee camp, just thirty minutes away from London.

Arriving at the site last week, we were greeted by an elderly man who looked up at the remnants of the children’s rope swings hanging from the trees and said ‘What is there to live for? What hope do we have? My wife and I have talked seriously about ending it all. This is no way to live.’ While the trauma of the eviction is still vivid for the residents, it is what happens next that worries them most of all. Kathleen, an articulate five-year-old with an acute awareness of the challenges facing her community, explained the situation to me: ‘Basildon Council and the police came and they broke everything. They broke the walls, and my granny’s caravan, and they broke all the ground, and even my mum’s back [Kathleen’s mother was hospitalised with a fractured spine during the policing operation]. We were crying and we were so scared. Now, Basildon Council want to move us again, but they can’t put us out on the road because where can we go?’

It is this last question that remains unanswered for the Dale Farm residents. Contrary to reports that the Dale Farm Travellers owned property in Ireland, the 83 families who lived at Dale Farm are now homeless. Long before the eviction, the Travellers said they would willingly leave Dale Farm if culturally appropriate alternative housing was provided, but Basildon Council have refused to acknowledge any duty to provide solutions for the community they evicted from their homes. Instead, they are pouring their resources into preparing a new set of enforcement notices, expected to be issued in the next few weeks, which will force the community out of Dale Farm and into car parks and lay bys. The children, who are the first literate generation of Dale Farm Travellers and have continued to attend school throughout the upheaval, will be uprooted from both their education and their community. Conditions at Dale Farm are dismal, but life on the road will involve endless evictions. As Mary Flynn put it, ‘No one would ever stay here if they had a choice, some place else to go. But if they evict us again, we’ll be on the road to nowhere’.

The situation at Dale Farm is not just a product of local tensions, but is symptomatic of the wider problems facing the travelling community. There is a shocking deficit of Traveller sites in the UK: 20% of the caravan-dwelling Gypsy and Irish Traveller community do not have a legal or secure place to live. In the mid-1990s, Travellers were encouraged by central government to buy their own land and settle.[1] However, planning permission is rarely granted to Traveller communities; according to the Commission for Racial Equality, more than 90% of Travellers planning applications are initially rejected, compared to 20% on average.[2] The double standards of planning applications can be witnessed in Basildon, where the Council have recently authorised a dogs’ home on the same ‘protected’ greenbelt on which Dale Farm is located.[3] In this context, Council leader Tony Ball’s maxim that ‘the [planning] law must be upheld’ begins to appear rather hollow. Indeed, while the government have recently injected some much needed cash into the provision of Traveller sites, they have simultaneously removed the duty of local councils to provide sites, increased powers to evict ‘illegal’ encampments and undermined the ability of travelling communities to challenge eviction.[4] The Dale Farm Travellers, like many others belonging to this marginalised community, are stuck between a rock and a hard place as their traditional way of life is criminalised; they cannot travel, they cannot buy their own land and settle, and local councils like Basildon are offering them no alternatives. As Basildon Council issues statistics claiming that, at a cost of over £7 million, the eviction of this community came cheap, urgent questions need to be asked about the immense human cost of institutionalised prejudice.

The Traveller Solidarity Network is organising a national speaker tour about Dale Farm throughout the month of March. Find out when it is coming to your town here:

[1] Department for Communities and Local Government, Gypsies and Travellers: Facts and Figures (Department for Communities and Local Government, March 2004).

[2] Sarah Cemlyn et al, Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities: A review (Equality and Human Rights Commission 2009), p. 8

[3] Basildon Borough Council, PLANNING APPLICATION NO. 11/00433/FULL (Basildon Borough Council, December 2011):

[4] Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, Submission to Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the abolition of regional spatial strategies, (Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, September 2010). Lord Avebury, Legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill (Hansard, 24 January 2012), c. 928-941.


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dan 3 March 2012, 18.13

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments concerning the Dale Fam Travellers. The vile and violent as well as illegal eviction was a disgrace, so much so that all members of the government prefer not to talk about the Panorama broadcast, that showed us the vile and evil polce driven eviction. Thank God for Dale Farm Solidarity, and the newly formed Traveller Solidarity Network.

Jason 3 March 2012, 19.08

I am a lifelong resident of Basildon.
So I think I can honestly mention the double standards of Basildon council concerning this eviction and green spaces in general.
They played the Dale farm green belt card over and over ( still don’t quite understand how a former scraps yard is green belt) yet build on parks and other green spaces within the Basildon area regardless of public opinion. There has also been an argument about developing a whole new village at dry street, Basildon which is a beautiful part of the countryside (green belt).
I still think that the council wanted Dale farm for future development, once the fuss dies away.
Also crays hill is a very posh area, if the illegal site was in Basildon, laindon, pitsea or vange then I don’t think the eviction would have taken place

carole 4 March 2012, 08.50

having been @ dale farm before & during the eviction i can certainly confirm it was violent, it was unjust & it was totally without ordinary human compassion. BUT when you were dealing with the police @ least you knew WHO you were dealing with & there was a mechanism in place, however flawed, for some sort of redress. the bailiffs were a different cup of tea (rather glad they hadn’t been given access to tasers!)

but but but

if the plans for police privatization go ahead the idea of that old horror, the police state, may seem a bit of a luxury! (irony, obviously)

yeah, reporting a rape to a security firm thug? a private security firm in charge of the next (& there will be one) dale farm style eviction? one can only hope they might seize & smoke large caches of illegal drugs & will be found in a senseless heap on a town center pavement somewhere. but i fantasize!

gerry oates 5 March 2012, 12.39

Timelapse is something to remember.In 1985 I was ready with lots of volunteers in Wiltshire to respond to calls for help from the Peace convoy.We saw them enter the ring road round Salisbury and I waived to them from a bridge.They waived back and that was the last we saw of them.Those were the days before mobile phones.They had been taken out into the country and ambushed,their vehicles/homes impounded and all of them (approx 450 souls)taken into custody in places s far away as the midlands.This episode is so called the battle (?) of he Beanfield.
Six years later a small group took the police to court for assault,damage to property,and unlawful arrest.They won the case but were denied a judicial inquiry they were calling for.1200 officers from six separate forces took part and the cost was reported to be £800,000. No regard the the human cost inflicted upon those travellers. I see a resemblance with the eviction at Dale Farm.


Jason 5 March 2012, 18.55

Yes carole, I wonder what it will be like when the mercenaries start taking over police duties.
Makes you shudder to think doesn’t it

cabinboy 2 16 March 2012, 13.22

The Council of Europe of which GB was a member on its foundation in 1949 and which was ratified in 62 was formed as a result of WW11 and the enormous upheaval and damage caused.THe idea was for nations to seek for solutions other than violence when there is a conflict of interests.The committeee of Ministers would meet on a regular basis to discuss relevant matters in order to find peaceful solutions.
In recent years membership has increased:now 47 countries are involved and the cttee foresee problems arising from the movement of populations and the large number of people seeking refugee status or political asylum.Member States have been asked to describe their attitude and form a strategy.Some countries had not replied promptly and the Commissioner was enquiring about the British response when it was announced that HMG were offering funds to provide more sites for Travellers.
This meant brownie points for us.However the leader of Basildon council then threw a spanner in the works by the forced eviction at Dale Farm.This prompted the Commissioner to write to Eric Pickles.(March the first,2012,Independent /opinion)
It was precisely this use of force that the CoE was formed to outlaw.Moreover the United Nations has already said that all member States should do everthing in their power to prevent forced evictions-at national and local level.Such evictions are cruel and unnecessary and victims should be given suitable accomodation and be compensated for the trauma of being made homeless.
None of this takes place in Essex.On the contrary the leader is pursuing the survivors with threats of further actions.There are an estimated 8oom people in the care of the CoE and they will all be able to see where poor leadership has ruined our reputation.

Steviiiiieeee 9 April 2012, 10.33

I have never read anything so ridiculous. Having been offered alternative accommadation of BOTH a traditional and non-traditional sort, I quote, the defense is actually given time to bend the truth with strange cliches about “depression” and “aversions to concrete and mortar”. I wonder about whether this is genuine or a clever distortion of the facts.

Steviiiiieeee 9 April 2012, 10.42

Apologies for having muddled up my sources this is what I have quoted from in the previous post. However it reiterates what my thoughts about facts. Why is there no reference to this in the hearing?

cabinboy2 10 April 2012, 08.01

Since my last post the constabulary have issued the report on the eviction at Dale Farm.If you read this in conjunction with the FAQ section of the same site you will find a puzzling inner contradiction.The FAQ section obviously predates the eviction and parades the traditional description of the role of the police as bystanders – only attending such events in order to maintain the Queen’s peace.Reminiscent of the notion that a policeman is just another citizen who has been put into uniform so as to be recognized by the general public in time of need (policing by consent)There is also a recognition on the FAQ that evictions are a matter of civil law not criminal law.
This arouses suspicion that the eviction (by police) with the Bailiffs trotting on behind were dealing with this as a criminal matter – very much as you see them do during a “drugs bust.”
What reason had they for this other than political pressure ?The report lists 15 injuries sustained by officers the first of which tells of an officer falling when climbing over a 1ft wall injuring his knee.The Bailiffs,if they had been conducting the eviction would have had to obey a judges instructions to leave untouched a number of walls,fences and sructures.The police did not feel the need to have regard for these niceties,since they were falling over themselves to gain entry.A spokesperson told reporter that they did this because they had intelligence tha a stockpile of dangerous materials had been established on the site which was a danger to officers,Bailiffs and the general public.This is the strange WMD scenario,worthy of a Tony Blair lookalike.
These two police documents will give you plenty to think about but nothing emerges about who authorised such innovative tactics (riot policing a civil case).Was it the leader of Basidon Council,the chief constable of Essex,someone in the Home Office (see the financal statement in the report)or someone at no.10 Downing street ? ? ?

Andrew D Hood 17 April 2012, 16.24

Good artricle on Dale Farm! We need to remember at one time we were all Gypsy style foraging people from half dozen to a dozen millennia ago and life was better and egalitarian. A quick read of Andrew Whiten and David Erdal, British evolutionary psychologists in their work, “On Human Egalitarianism An Evolutionary Poduct of Machiavellian Status Escalation?”

Other work by them has shown how egalitarian life can be better. It’s a life all had going back from the time all were Gypsies and to 100 to 200 millennia ago. Thus all the talk about a new world misses the point. We have had egalitarianism before. Prorgessives don’t need to talk about a new world. There’s nothing new under the sun except for more techonology to destroy this world. We need to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. We have the infomration in the human past to tell us which direction we should be heading. Modern also isn’t worth a damn. Think Luddites.
They had it right.

Progressives including Marxists are looking for tradtional values, and any Western academic when not libeling societies of this type refers to them as tradtional as opposed to Western. Thus giving the lie to Western “civilization” as applied to what these same academiics refer to as Western societies.

Tradtional values means no hierarchy and all for one and one for all.

Comments are now closed on this article.

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