Draft – for final editing
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 activists that supported the community.
I was one of those activists supporting the travelling community and spent the months leading to the eviction at the site and engaged in direct action to prevent families and children and their homes being destroyed.
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. Various planning breaches were allegedly reported and applications for planning were rejected because , say Basildon District Council, the land was green belt.
The site continued to expand, and the Travellers residing there applied for a judicial review of the eviction decision. The Traveller residents won this decision in the High Court in 2008 but this was then overturned in 2010 by the Court of Appeal which concluded that Basildon Council has acted lawfully in refusing planning permission for the disputed portion of Dale Farm. Some 90 families, 400 people and 100 children were given until 31st August 2011 to leave and with the eviction date set and electricity supplies planned to be cut off the forced eviction loomed. Basildon District Council repeatedly asked for a ‘peaceful vacation’ , pleading with the community and activists not to take to a ‘forced eviction’.
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 and activists from all over the world converged on Dale Farm to show their support.
On 17 October Dale Farm went into ‘lock-down’ with a sizeable scaffolding and gates being erected to block the entrance form the main road into Dale Farm and other entrances heavily fortified with make-shift barriers and barbed wire. There was no leaving Dale Farm now and the expected forced eviction was just two days away. Activists kept a 24 hour vigilance from the now infamous scaffold tower , watching for the invasion of police and bailiffs.
7 am. on 19 October 2011
The site clearance of Dale Farm began. Electricity was disconnected. I was situated at the top of scaffold looking over the road entrance to Dale Farm. I could see hundreds of bailiffs and the police were armed extendable batons , riot shields and as they marched closer , some clearly carried tasers. As they speedily approached the Dale farm gates there was a sense of panic. The travellers and protesters commenced their last ditched attempt to keep what we perceived as the ‘oppressor’s’ at bay. 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.”
The police had tactfully entered Dale Farm on at least two different strategic points. We were focused at the front when it became apparent that they were also entering through the back and albeit we had barricaded any possible entrance points , they were soon dismantled and despite attempts we were quickly overcome and within a short time ‘kettled’ , surrounded by dozens of police and bailiffs and unable to move in any direction. By this time at least two people had been tasered and others arrested and struck with batons and shields. 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 two weeks after the eviction date I was to be arrested for Obstructing the Police , Assaulting a police officer and Affray.
More than 100 riot police and 200 bailiffs had converged and taken over Dale Farm. Resistance was now futile. Non-the-less , some protesters made attempts to stave of any quick progression by the authorities in dismantling the site, chaining themselves to the scaffold , attempts to move the structure were perilous and put the protesters at risk from serious harm. Negotiations commenced.
By 5pm it was all over and the vast majority of travelers and protesters left the site , myself included , watching in despair as their homes and lives were destroyed by the police and bailiffs in front hem , using sledge hammers and kango’s , they set about dismantling everything.
There were 34 arrests at the site for offences including violent disorder, breach of the peace and obstruction on 19 and 20 October. A police spokesman said all of the people arrested were activists, not Travellers.
Basildon Council successfully prosecuted two people for obstructing a bailiff and issued cautions to 10 people. It 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 unbroadcast material of the eviction.
In July 2014, a woman who claimed she was assaulted while taking part in protests against the eviction won a £15,000 compensation payout from Essex Police.
Following my arrest and charges I appeared at Basildon Magistrates Court before being sent for trial at Southend Magistrates Court on final charges of Violent Disorder. With support from Dale Farm Solidarity and the Dale Farm Back Office and solicitors I was acquitted of all charges in April 2012.