Travellers protest at council offices

Two people have scaled the front of council offices to protest at the planned clearance of the UK's largest illegal travellers' site.

The pair climbed above the doorway of Basildon Council's Basildon Centre building at midday. They were questioned by police and arrested at about 1.30pm.

During the protest they unfurled a banner reading "Tony Ball RESIGN" - referring to calls for the Essex council's leader to quit after the clearance of nearby Dale Farm was delayed by legal proceedings.

Ali Saunders, a spokeswoman for Dale Farm Solidarity, was at the protest.

She said more than 50 people gathered outside the entrance to the offices while the protest took place.

She said: "It's becoming clear that this eviction is a lost cause - Dale Farm has got to stay, Tony Ball has got to go."

A spokesman for Basildon Council said: "Anybody is entitled to protest, and we respect this right.

"Basildon Council is happy to accommodate lawful, peaceful demonstration.

"As Dale Farm protesters climbed on top of the revolving entrance door to the Basildon Centre, police were called to monitor the situation and the health and safety of both protesters and members of the public."

The clearance of Dale Farm was due to begin last week but an injunction preventing bailiffs moving in is currently in place while legal appeals are heard at the High Court.

The planned clearance follows a decade-long row over 51 unauthorised pitches on the six-acre travellers' site.

Mary Sheridan, a Dale Farm resident, said: "Instead of wasting money on destroying a community, Tony Ball should be putting money into Basildon and supporting local people. This shouldn't be about travellers, but about what's good for Basildon.

"We are living in fear of the bailiffs. If Tony Ball had his way we'd be forcefully thrown out of our community with no place to go.

"Tony Ball is failing travellers and the people of Basildon. We don't want to be taking homes off others who need them and we don't want to live at the side of the road."

Residents living near Dale Farm have recently said they may stage a protest of their own if the eviction does not go ahead.