Wait for traveller evicition ruling

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The Independent Online

Residents of Dale Farm, the UK's largest illegal travellers' site, could learn tomorrow whether they have won their High Court battle against eviction.

A judge in London said today he hoped to give his ruling on the controversial site near Basildon, Essex, at 2pm tomorrow.

But Mr Justice Ouseley warned that he might have to put off his judgment at short notice to another day and said everyone "will have to take the timetable as it comes".

The judge is considering three linked applications for judicial review by the residents to block eviction.

Their lawyers argued in a week-long hearing that Basildon Council's decision earlier this year to take direct action to clear the green belt site of about 400 travellers was disproportionate.

The council was accused of failing to take account of vulnerable residents, including the sick in need of regular medication and children whose schooling would be disrupted if families were evicted.

Lawyers for Basildon, who have fought a ten-year battle to clear the site, argued they had acted lawfully and reasonably and complied with their statutory duty.

Today, the last day of the hearing, it was argued that changes on the ground since the original direct action decision was taken meant that the council was now obliged to consider whether the eviction of hundreds of residents was still appropriate.

Richard Harwood, representing site resident Margaret McCarthy, said parallel legal proceedings over the past few days had led to an agreement in which some caravans and some buildings, with fences and walls, plus some hard standing in one corner, would be allowed to remain in place.

The rest of the illegal plots - 49 out of 54 - face clearance, unless today's judicial review applications succeed.

But Mrs McCarthy, a site resident since 2001, stood to benefit from that agreement, said Mr Harwood.

"There is absolutely no consideration by the council of the new circumstances of Margaret McCarthy."

Although hard standing would be taken up, "the council now accepts her building can be retained, her residential use retained and her boundary fences and walls can be retained".

Mr Harwood argued the council's original aim in taking direct action - to restore the whole site to a cleared, open state - was now impossible to achieve.

When Basildon councillors had voted for evictions they had not been told certain plots could not be got rid of.

The council was now legally obliged to reconsider the benefits of continuing the action, he argued.

The benefits, with the council's desire to enforce the law, should be weighed afresh against the effect on individual travellers.

Reuben Taylor, for the council, argued the direct action decision remained lawful and indicated some other form of action still might be taken against those who remained on the site.

The judge said that was not a matter before him today. Later, he reserved judgment.

Leaving the High Court, Basildon Council leader Tony Ball said: "We are satisfied with how our legal team has set out our case.

"It is now in the hands of the judge who we hope will have a judgment by tomorrow afternoon."

Source: PA