Dale Farm is situated at Oak Lane in Crays Hill, Essex. Until 19th October 2011 it was one of the largest traveller sites in the United Kingdom and at one point some 1000 travellers were living there. It was steeped in controversy as some travellers encroached on Green Belt land adjacent to Dale Farm and set up residency. Dividing a nation and albeit not equally , the vast majority of the public expressed disdain, and the preceding years were entrenched in a legal battle with Basildon District Council to remove those travellers who did not have permission to permanently settle at their own designated plots. With an estimated cost to the council of almost £5 million , the bailiffs and police moved in on Dale Farm at 7am on October 19th 2011, tasked with removing the residents and the activists that supported the community.
It is important to acknowledge that this was not a direct defiance by the travelling community to flaunt the law and the issue of Dale Farm was entrenched in complex legal issues with regards to the community’s rights to access and live in areas directly adjacent to Dale Farm. It was never as clear-cut as maintained by the anti-roma media.
I have always been extremely passionate about speaking out for those without a voice, not that I consider my voice powerful, but I have come to learn that those who face persecution are grateful for any support and this extends as someone that has defended animals and our environment with passion. Over the years I have been arrested and detained multiple times during protests, political activism and direct action. I have been arrested and released or charged with related Public Order offences, including at Dale Farm , The Battle of Brightlingsea , as a Hunt Saboteur, direct action against McDonald’s restaurants and the police have even accused me of being a ‘member’ of the Animal Liberation Front. I have written articles and letters to the media challenging governmental austerity , male inequality, mental health and I continue to challenge religion for it’s abhorrent homophobic and questionable ideologies’. I have been interviewed on news channels and ‘chat shows’, and appeared in the national press.
A team of Human Rights Monitors was set up at Dale Farm in August 2011 and Camp Constant was organised and formed by the Dale Farm Solidarity Group. Activists from all over the world converged on Dale Farm to show their support.
Two days before the eviction, and on 17 October 2011, Dale Farm went into ‘lock-down’. The only road entrance into Dale Farm was secured with a 12-metre-high scaffold tower and gates. There was no leaving Dale Farm now and as activists , we set about securing our position to stave off any police invasion.
A police helicopter circled the site for day prior to eviction. I spent hours at the very top of the scaffold directing other activists into position by a network of mobile text messages.
The Gypsy, Roma & Travelling community have suffered global persecution and discrimination for centuries. The Nazi’s are estimated to have exterminated 500,00 Gypsies and Romani. Other nations continue to ostracize the people and exploit them for their own commercial benefit and means.
The people are the ‘last acceptable form of racism’ with threats and intimidation freely made through every possible media outlet and without fear of repercussion from the same laws that protect others. This continues in the United Kingdom.
Screenshot comments made against the travelling community daily through the media and social media and the ‘acceptable’ forms of exploitation from tv media production companies. Through social media, I have personally witnessed and reported threats of violence and comments against Gypsy’s and Traveller’s, such as ‘Hitler didn’t do a good enough job’
A frightened Roma central London – Often stereotyped as beggars, pickpockets & thieves.
The March for Dale Farm.
Saturday September 10th 2011 and travellers, protesters and supporters march through Essex to Dale Farm in protest as the pending forced evictions. Banners reading ‘No Ethnic Cleansing’ were met with controversy with the media frenzy in pursuit seeking justification for the slogans claims. In support were several prominent human rights spokespeople. Amnesty International, Gratton Puxon, a tireless campaigner for Gypsy rights, Richard Howitt MEP and Labour spokesman on human rights. The march was tainted with assumptions of violence and some shops and businesses en-route closed their shops. The noisy but peaceful march proceeded without incident to Dale Farm where the speakers rallied support and played to the media.
Passionate activists make an informed decision to prevent the destruction of the tower and prevention of invasion by the police and bailiffs by securing themselves to the scaffold framework. Seen by some as foolish and others as poignant and brave these activists stood their ground and went through to the final hours delaying advancement by the authorities, until they were finally removed by specialist bailiffs teams with paramedics on standby.
After hearing the latest High Court victory for a postponement of the eviction, activists and travellers celebrate – this was short lived as the last-minute reprieve was then lost again, ensuring the eviction date of 19th October 2011 would still go ahead.
The eviction – 7 am 19th October 2011
The site clearance at Dale Farm began. Electricity was disconnected. I was situated at the top of scaffold overlooking the road entrance to Dale Farm. I could see hundreds of bailiffs and police storm towards the site. Armed with extendable batons, riot shields and Tasers as they approached, travellers and protesters strengthened resistance. I had a sense of panic, fear and yet excitement. The travellers and protesters commenced their last ditched attempt to keep the authorities out. The local MP John Barn quipped at the time “Police are using the minimum force required and when you are being pelted with bricks and rocks you are entitled to defend yourself.”
Entrance points were soon dismantled and despite attempts the site was quickly overcome and within a short time pockets of protesters and travellers ‘kettled’ by the police and bailiffs, unable to move in any direction. By this time at least two people had been tasered by Essex Police and others arrested and struck with batons and shields. At times I had left the scaffold tower and made attempts to hold back the authorities by using makeshift shields and barriers, I was struck around the ankles and lower limbs by the police using extendable batons. Caravans were set alight and the flames and smoke could be seen for miles. A police helicopter circled continually above the site and along with police surveillance on the ground they filmed our every move. It was this evidence that was used when two weeks after the eviction I was to be arrested and charged with Public Order offences.
Resistance was now futile. Negotiations commenced. Within a few hours all protesters had been removed from the scaffold and with it the dismantling of our iconic tower.
The Aftermath: An estimated 400 travellers and their children were forcibly removed by the Basildon Council, the police and Constant Bailiffs. 15 police officers were injured, 45 activists were arrested and charged with various offences. Basildon Council’s estimated 4.3 million eviction costs have never been recouped. Police costs exceeded 2.3 million.
Large billboards picturing the Dale Farm children were placed at the scaffold gates.
Existing caravans, homes and infrastructure was systematically destroyed by the police and bailiffs. The largest traveller site in Europe was finally removed. The High Court ruled that Essex Police could not order news media groups to release footage of the eviction for their criminal investigations.
Following my arrest, I appeared at Southend Magistrates Court before being sent for trial at Southend Crown Court on various Public Order Charges. With support from Dale Farm Solidarity and the Dale Farm Back Office and solicitors I was acquitted of all charges in April 2012.
The Gypsy, Travelling and Roma people continue to suffer discrimination, violence and intimidation and are regularly forced to accept settled static homes, against their culture and historical heritage, gradually eliminating the race.
The ignorance and prejudice suffered by the people remains endemic. I have witnessed people who seemingly abhor racism and discrimination, yet openly exclude the Gypsy population from their cause. It is the last acceptable form of racism.
Basildon Council successfully prosecuted two people for obstructing a bailiff and issued cautions to 10 others but also later dropped the prosecution of 14 others. On 17 May 2012, the High Court ruled that Essex Police could not order media groups to release 100 hours of broadcast and non-broadcast material of the eviction.