Dale Farm eviction delayed by court ruling

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The Independent Online

Residents facing the threat of eviction from the UK's largest illegal travellers' site have been given more breathing space over the weekend.

A judge today continued an existing injunction until 4pm on Monday to prevent Basildon Council in Essex from clearing the Dale Farm site.

Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart is having to decide whether the injunction should be continued further and said today he hopes to give his decision on Monday.

Sitting at London's High Court the judge said: "This is a very difficult area and I can quite assure everyone I am giving it the most anxious consideration."

Lawyers for the travellers said they welcomed Basildon's acceptance today that the case raised "serious triable issues".

They hope this could lead the judge to continue the injunction pending a hearing at some future date.

Candy Sheridan, vice-chairman of the Gypsy Council, said: "Basildon have conceded pitch by pitch, plot by plot. Dale Farm will live on.

"We accept the legality of the enforcement notices. We were always concerned about over-enforcement."

Outside court, council leader Tony Ball said he was disappointed the council would have to wait until Monday for the judge's full ruling.

He said: "I am personally somewhat disappointed, but I understand (the judge) feels he needs to see justice is done.

"After 10 years, if it means just a few more days, then it is worth it.

"The public, the travellers and the council need resolution to this."

The possibility of the long-running battle over the future of the site being settled quickly was put in doubt when the judge was told two fresh applications for judicial review to stop the evictions are now also pending.

If they go ahead, they could add thousands of pounds more to the already huge legal bill generated by the Dale Farm saga over a decade.

Council officials said the site - thought to be home to around 400 travellers - contains about 50 illegal pitches.

They say the clearance operation will already cost the taxpayers around £18 million.

At the start of today's hearing, the judge said "planning avenues" had been exhausted and that today's litigation could not be viewed as "yet another springboard for delay".

He said the council had spent "substantial physical and financial resources" and courts had a duty to make sure that valuable resources were not wasted.

Marc Willers, appearing for the Dale Farm residents, said that - separately from today's hearing - the residents were applying for permission to seek a judicial review on the grounds that the whole eviction process was "disproportionate".

The judge said he would consider the application next week.

He was also told that the Dale Farm Solidarity Network, a group of protesters helping the travellers fight eviction, is about to lodge another judicial review bid.

Ellen Wiles, appearing for the network, said it was being brought on the basis that enforcement action against the travellers was "irrational".

She asked the judge to allow the network to join today's injunction proceedings as its members were "legitimate protesters on the site".

But, after the judge challenged the group's standing, Ms Wiles withdrew from the case.

Among Dale Farm residents in court today was Nora Sheridan.

She said before the hearing: "We're just keeping our fingers crossed - praying for a good result. We don't know what's going to happen."

Five sisters who live at Dale Farm donned identical short-sleeved blouses to show "solidarity" at today's hearing.

The McCarthy sisters - Joanna, 38, Tina, 40, Margaret, 46, Kathleen, 50, and Marie, 55 - wore blue and pink floral-patterned tops as they sat in the front row of Court 4.

The judge congratulated the "ladies for their lovely turnout" and added: "It is very nice to see somebody brightening up the court."