Police under fire for use of Tasers as they battled to clear Dale Farm


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The Independent Online

Police were facing criticism last night over their "heavy-handed" approach to clearing barricades at Britain's largest illegal Travellers' site.

Clashes between police and protesters continued at Dale Farm last night after a morning of violent confrontations in which two people were shot with Tasers.

The law reform group Justice expressed "concern" at the use of the weapons. Police defended the use of Tasers during the clearances, saying officers had been threatened with "serious violence".

Police claimed last night to have secured the area and removed protesters from a 40ft high scaffolding tower which had been erected at the main gate to the site. A total of 23 arrests were made throughout the day.

"We are in control of the whole site. It is calm. The tension is now reduced," said Superintendent Trevor Roe, of Essex Police.

In the morning, a fence was broken at the rear of the site after police reportedly received intelligence that "missiles, fluids" and other weapons were being "stockpiled".

They were pelted with objects thrown by protesters, who also built barricades which they set on fire. An unoccupied caravan was set alight and explosions were heard as it burnt. No one was hurt.

Supt Roe said the two officers who deployed Tasers had been trying "to protect themselves". He said: "They carry personal protective equipment which includes the Taser and they just naturally reacted as they are trained individuals to operate that device."

Acknowledging that Tasers are not recommended as a "public order tactic," he added: "This was an isolated incident where officers were threatened directly."

He said police had entered the site in response to the risk of violence as Basildon Council sought to begin the clearance.

Residents and protesters accused them of being heavy-handed. "I have been through a lot of evictions but I have never seen anything like this. To see riot police on our doorsteps is shocking. We are terrified of the police," said Kathleen McCarthy, who lived at Dale Farm.

The clearances mark the climax of a 10-year legal battle between the council and the community. The residents won a last-minute injunction as bailiffs amassed at the gates, but earlier this week a High Court judge ruled that the clearances could go ahead.