Dale Farm Gypsy Eviction

Dale Farm: Gypsy community facing brutal eviction
I must say I find the vitriol surrounding the eviction of the Dale Farm travelling community rather ugly. The gypsy communities are often Catholics who take the Church's teachings deadly seriously. The usual newspapers and the usual columnists are lining up to condemn them. Why is it that there is such an insult-sensitive embargo on Jews and gays, but other victims of the Nazis Holocaust are still absolutely fair game? It doesn't make much sense to me.

At Walsingham there were quite a few Irish gypsy travellers who were camped up for the Youth 2000 group that hold their event at Walsingham every year. They have big families and take marriage very seriously. That may be a separate and unrelated issue, but, still, there is something rather nasty about the way in which they are discussed. Josephine Siedlecka of Independent Catholic News has written a piece on the background information to their eviction from Dale Farm which is posted below. One thing that does strike me is that should the bottom fall out of the UK economy and people were forced to live in vans and tents, as they do in Sacramento at tent city, which emerged after the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, suddenly I'm sure people would be a lot more understanding of their situation...

'Tensions are rising at Dale Farm in Essex - as bailiffs with bulldozers, employed by Basildon Council, prepare an £8million operation to demolish the homes of more than 100 Traveller families. The following article by ICN editor, Jo Siedlecka, (originally published in Shelter's Roof magazine, on 4 November 2008) - gives background information on this story. In the three years since it was written, the Dale Farm community has endured continuous harassment and uncertainty over the future of their homes and a succession of legal efforts to save them have been defeated.

Travellers on a site in rural Essex are under siege from Basildon council, reports Jo Siedlecka Dale Farm near Wickford, in rural Essex, is one of the largest Gypsy and Traveller sites in Europe. Around 500 people live on the site in caravans, camper trucks and prefab chalets. Some of the plots have little gardens and small shrines. Children’s play facilities are shared between families.

 The site, a former scrap metal yard, is overhung by electricity pylons. A makeshift fence of corrugated iron sheets and heaps of tyres separate it from adjacent farmland. Relations between newcomers on the site and the rest of the community have deteriorated over the years.

When the first Travellers arrived 10 years ago and bought the land, they obtained planning permission for 12 permanent residences and settled in quietly. However, when a large influx of families followed, John Baron [No relation to Baron Homes, I hope!], Conservative MP for Billericay, the local paper and the Daily Mail began a campaign aimed at their eviction.

In 2004, when around 50 Traveller children arrived at the small village primary school in Crays Hill, population 2,000, other parents withdrew their children en-masse and the head teacher, staff and board of governors all resigned. The school, with its new pupils and staff has since had a very good Ofsted report. Basildon district council has been trying to evict the families for years. Last December, the council decided to use section 178 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to enter the land, evict the residents and demolish their dwellings.

This would have left them homeless, as the council would not have been able to offer alternative accommodation. Earlier this year, a group of more than 50 Traveller families were granted a reprieve in the High Court. In his 26-page judgment, Mr Justice Collins said the eviction order could not stand and he ordered more time to investigate concerns about the families’ welfare. Judge Collins said sick and vulnerable persons and children attending school had not been given proper consideration, nor had anti-racist legislation been fully complied with.

The judge warned the Travellers that they would not be able to stay on the illegal sites permanently, but said: "I think that the approach has been that the sites should be cleared, rather than a consideration of whether there are families whose circumstances are such eviction would be disproportionate."

Unacceptable evictions 

In his ruling, Judge Collins was particularly critical of Basildon council’s bailiffs, Constant and Co. After watching footage of a Traveller eviction it carried out in Hertfordshire, he said: "The conduct was unacceptable and the evictions were carried out in a fashion which inevitably would have led to harm to those affected. "The council must reconsider the use of the firm and ensure that any eviction is carried out in as humane a fashion as possible." Judge Collins gave Basildon permission to appeal against his decision, saying the case raised ‘important points’ over what appeared to be the ‘insoluble problem’ of providing sites for Gypsies and Travellers.

Traveller spokesman Grattan Puxon said the ruling "represents a major legal victory for Britain’s long harassed gypsies and travellers, many of whom have seen their homes mercilessly bulldozed". Dr Keith Lomax, the solicitor representing the travellers, said: "This is a wake-up call to councils. Those that don’t provide legal living space will find they can’t rely on enforcement powers." Ray McKay, spokesman for Basildon council told ROOF: "The Travellers at Dale Farm are in breach of planning law. We want them to go. They have used all manner of legal procedures to delay matters, but we are committed to moving them on. There are legal residents on the site, but the rest have to go." He added: ‘Basildon has one of the largest number of sites for travellers in the country, about 103 sites. Perhaps other councils could also offer more provision.’

He concluded: "They would get more sympathy if they were poor. But they are not. They alienate communities. They don’t integrate. It’s their choice. In the end we all have to follow the law. They are not our responsibility." While at odds with many, the Travellers have the strong support of the local churches and some neighbours. The Bishops of Brentwood, Chelmsford, and other Catholic and Anglican clergy have all visited Dale Farm.

A small cabin intended for meetings, health projects, IT and literacy classes, was officially opened on the site with the blessing of the local Catholic parish priest, Father John Glynn of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Wickford. There were speeches by Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury, Clive Mardner, director of the Equality Council, who sponsored the project, and Richard Sheridan, the National Gypsy Council president. Lord Avebury said: "The bulldozing of Dale Farm would be a disaster." Sheridan said: "If we are evicted it will be a traumatic experience for all the families who have nowhere to go."

Commenting on the court decision, Father John said: "This judgment is a welcome stay of execution. The great thing is that it draws attention to the situation of these individual families. I hope this will now lead to a proper dialogue between all the parties."He added that local churches, have offered to help bring the sides together for talks.

Low life expectancy 

One of the main supporters of the travellers is Sister Catherine Reily, a Catholic nun and social worker who has been visiting the community for eight years. She said: "Irish Travellers are one of the smallest ethnic groups in the UK. At any one time, more than 20 per cent are homeless. Most are unable to read or write. Their life expectancy is 20 years lower than the national average."

She said: "They find it hard being in a house or flat. Those who do settle say they miss the sounds of the birds and wind and rain on the roof." A stay in hospital makes them unhappy. Sister Catherine said one young girl, who had cystic fibrosis and eventually died, would regularly vanish from her hospital bed at night and then reappear in it the next morning. She said: "I’m sure the family were taking her home." Sister Catherine said: "Travellers in rural areas are often the target of abuse and blamed for everything from fly-tipping to petty crime. Some do misbehave, but the majority are law-abiding. "If they had more official transit sites they’d be no trouble at all, but councils have sold off many of their old sites. Travellers are shy of doctors and social workers, she said, and often the caring professions are nervous of them as well.

"A few months ago there was an outbreak of meningitis. The doctor wouldn’t visit unless I went with her. The children miss out on vaccinations and healthcare. "If they had some education it would help them get work and integrate better. But many families have to move every few days. The children don’t get a chance to stay in school for long." Just one Travellers’ site in England has permanent nursery, health and training facilities: The Westway, an old site underneath a motorway flyover in West London. The services were set up by Westminster council with the Catholic Children’s Society. The children all attend local schools. "I would like to see more facilities like that around the country," Sister Catherine said. "Generally Travellers get very rough treatment from the authorities.

Here at night police helicopters sometimes fly low over the site, making a rattling noise through the camp. "It reminds me of the way the South African regime treated people in the black townships during the days of apartheid."


umblepie said…
Thanks for this informative post. Pray that justice and compassion will combine to provide a fair solution to this matter.St Sarah, patron saint of gypsies,pray for all travelling people.
Left-footer said…
What you describe is outrageous.

Thanks for this.
Anonymous said…
See, as I understand it, these people aren't actually gypsies, not in an ethnic sense. What they are is a bunch of native Irish folk that decided to live in caravans and move all over the place.
Unfortunately, Fr. John Glynn mentioned in the article is no longer a functioning Catholic priest.
1569 Rising said…
Since when did "Travellers" live in brick and stone built bungalows?
They are not "gypsy" in the ethnic sense of the term. They are in fact Irish tinkers who have brought destruction and trouble to the area.

If they want to live among British people, then they must comply with the same planning laws etc that the rest of us live by.

I am sorry, I have NO sympathy with them whatsoever.
shadowlands said…
Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. He had no continuing city on earth. The homeless and the outcasts and the marginalised remind us of this, I even reminded a priest acquaintance of mine of this fact when he exprressed homesickness for his old parish. I think it helped him sense a new closeness to Christ, in what had previously just seemed like being alone with strangers. Strange we admit to I said, but not strangers.

We all know (if we are blessed) the sense of belonging, how sweet and precious that feels when glimpsed. To be insecure about one's roof, which I have been and may be again, is a frightening and agitated place to be. You need a special kind of reassurance from God, that He sees you, just in order to be able to concentrate on anything other than that distracting fear, during your day.

This is the Church's(our)message to such people. Who's in charge of anouncements?
shadowlands said…
"If they want to live among British people, then they must comply with the same planning laws etc that the rest of us live by."

It's good of you to give them a choice at least, very charitable. More so than my parents friends in N.Ireland who were removed at gun point, out of their homes, from amongst the 'Brits' for no other reason than that they were Catholic.
Then again, many of these people being discussed are Catholic aswell and as the Catholic only got the vote in 1971 in certain parts of Ireland, (thanks to Bernadette Devlin)you will have to excuse a slower processing of rights and the application of same, by some who's education wasn't as readily accessible as perhaps yours and your family's was/is.

Then again, had they not had their own country invaded by Brits, who knows where they might be living now. Some beautiful soil in the North perhaps?

I'll say one thing for the Brits, they pick the best places to plunder. Not many battles fought over deserts, but the soil in Ulster, that's another matter altogether

Don't forget to thank God for your warm bed tonight, if you see it as a gift from Him, that is, and not some divine right He owes you for being a good British Citizen.

Then again, using that logic, maybe He believes some of the Irish are owed a field or two over here, seeing as we have stolen six of their counties?

So many ways of looking at the world, no wonder it spins......
Adam said…
You forgot to mention how, at Youth2000, because the local farmer would not allow as many gypsies on his land as he had done in previous years that they decided to extract revenge mutilating dozens of his chickens.
Sydwal said…
This has nothing to do with religion at all. Most Irish nationals (and that's what they are) will be catholic. So what? These people pay little or no tax, live on the fringes of society and only 38% of their kids actually finish school. Yet they are all driving around in brand new Land Rovers. A bunch of them turned up at my friend's business and parked 5 huge caravans in the public car park. They refused to leave until he'd paid them over £3,000. I kid you not. Sympathy? Nah.