Bailiffs' pyrrhic victory in fight to clear Dale Farm caravans

 

Most of the caravans at the Dale Farm travellers' site can be removed, a High Court Judge has ruled, more than two weeks after residents won a last-gasp injunction postponing any clearance.

Basildon Council have been authorised to remove caravans from 49 out of 54 plots, together with most of the concrete pitches on the site. Walls, fences and gates on the site, however, cannot be removed.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart said the steps to remove the caravans "are unpleasant and upsetting for the residents", but insisted that they had to be taken.

"It is important that the dignity of all concerned is respected and that the thing is done in as civilised a manner as possible," he said.

The ruling removes a major obstacle for the council, which has been trying to remove travellers from the site for a decade. But campaigners were optimistic yesterday that the court's decision to allow some of the buildings to remain now makes any eviction less likely.

"We're quite jubilant. An element of common sense has come in to the situation," said Grattan Puxon, the founder of the Gypsy Council. "There are five properties that cannot be cleared, and it's quite clear that Basildon Council cannot complete the eviction as they wanted to. It cannot be restored to green belt."

The court also ordered Basildon Council to pay a third of the travellers' legal costs in relation to the injunction in yesterday's hearing.

The estimated cost to evict the residents is now expected to reach more than £21m. President of the Dale Farm Housing Association and resident of the site, Richard Sheridan, said that the amount spent by the council was a "waste of money", but declined to comment further until the residents' legal challenges had been exhausted.

The council has been battling for a decade to remove the travellers, who now number some 400 individuals on more than 50 pitches, from the green belt site.

The Court of Appeal ruled against Dale Farm travellers in 2009 after they sought a judicial review claiming their human rights had been breached. The clearance was finally due to begin on 19 September after legal proceedings were apparently exhausted.

But a new High Court injunction prevented bailiffs moving in while the courts grappled with the fresh legal arguments.

They involved human rights and planning law and claims that sick and elderly and children on the site would unfairly suffer if the evictions went ahead. The residents have made three separate applications for a judicial review to stop the clearance of around 86 families. These are due to be heard later this week.

Councillor Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said: "I'd much rather be spending this money on other services, investing in what our residents want and need, but ultimately, the law must be upheld."

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