Hundreds of Irish "Travelers" (a community similar to Gypsies and Roma) had until midnight on Wednesday to leave their Dale Farm settlement after a 10-year court battle with the local council.
In a phone interview, a Basildon Council spokesman revealed that bailiffs would be sent to physically remove the Travelers from the site.
The Travelers say they are determined to stay.
“We bought and paid for this land. This is our own land,” said Mary Walsh, a Dale Farm Traveler in a phone interview. She has lived in a Dale Farm trailer for two years with her seven children. “We’re human beings not objects.”
Dale Farm in England’s Essex region is Britain’s largest Traveler community. It has two adjacent sites, one that is legal and one that is illegal as it is marked as Greenbelt land, which means it can only be used for activities such as horse rearing, agriculture, and rented vegetable gardens. Failure to follow the local zoning laws is a criminal offense. About 400 people will be evicted from the illegal site, although Basildon Council put the number at 240.
“We’re not criminals. We’ve no criminal record,” said Nora Duffy, another Traveler from the farm via phone.
Irish Travelers, known as tinkers up until the 1970s, are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group mainly found in Ireland and Great Britain.
Walsh points at government laws passed in 1994 that make trespassing on land illegal as the reason why Dale Farm Travelers no longer travel.
“And people say, they say, why don’t we travel because we are traveling people? We cannot travel because of all the new laws.” Walsh says.
“If we pull up at the side of the road for half an hour, the police will come to shift us on. How can anyone lead a life like that?”
That’s why, she argues, the Dale Farm community lives in small chalets and trailers.
Duffy calls the eviction “ridiculous.” She says that even if the government does evict them, there will still be a legal settlement on their doorstep.
“The government is giving out 18 million pounds (US$29 million) to get rid of us. They could give it to cancer research, to police funding, to nurses instead of giving to bulldozers to wreck our homes,” she says.
According to Basildon Council and media reports, the eviction cost will come to 8 million pounds (US$13 million) and that is in the worst case scenario.
Basildon Council’s leader, Tony Ball, emphasized in a statement published on its website that the law was being “equally and fairly applied to all people” and that the Travelers were not being targeted as an ethnic minority.
The Basildon Council spokesman said, “The residents of Basildon certainly expect us to uphold planning law against everybody, against anyone who breaches planning law in the green belt.”
Tonr Smith, a resident of Basildon, says she hasn’t had any problems with the Travelers. “I don’t really see them that much. What we were worried about is that if they are turfed out of there, where are they going to go? They’re just going to set up everywhere, all around. At least if they’re in one place, where they are now, they’re not setting up here, there and everywhere.”
Dale Farm received hate mail in May that expressed another side of local opinion: “Once Gypsies move in filth, crime, and indecent living comes to that area so, on your bike and take your trash with you.”
Of the Travelers’ relationship with their neighbors, Duffy says, “We get on very well with the local people, very well with some of the local people.”
She added, “I don’t think the local people like us. But we’ve never done anything wrong to the local people, never.”
The U.K. High Court sided with Basildon Council on Wednesday and a last ditch effort by the Travelers to garner support did not prevent the eviction notice from taking effect.