Traveller: 'The council said I'd get a home, but it's just a hostel'

Families complain their eviction is waste of public funds

Michelle Fox has lived at Dale Farm for 10 years. She has four children and was cradling her youngest, John, in her arms as the bailiffs arrived yesterday.

"I was travelling before I came here," Ms Fox, 38, said. "And I will be on the road again after they kick me out. I will be homeless. The council says they offered me a home, but it was just a hostel.

"How can they think it is right to force a woman with four children to live in a hostel? I have been evicted many times before, I have been moved on from car parks and fields but it has never been like this. We have never had riot police burst in before. I haven't seen this kind of force."

The stretch of greenbelt land at Dale Farm has been a figurative battleground for years. But yesterday it really looked like one.

Burning barricades were erected and police clashed with protesters. A caravan burned to the ground and masked protesters threw missiles at riot officers. Caught in the middle is a community with no idea where it is to go. A protester sat on the floor with a sign that said: "No judge's ruling or law can make this eviction just."

Dale Farm is separated roughly in half, with one section of 54 plots deemed illegal. The courts have ordered that all but five of the plots in the illegal half can be cleared by bailiffs.

Cornelius Sheridan, who has terminal cancer, lives on one of the five plots being spared from eviction. But that doesn't mean he has been spared from the anguish. He was taken out of his home as bailiffs began to enter. The power to the site – which runs his defibrillator – was cut. Two days earlier he had been admitted to hospital with a severe asthma attack; he came back because he was afraid of what would happen to his legal plot.

It is estimated the cost of evicting the residents of Dale Farm will reach £18m in police and council costs. Legal costs on both sides have been considerable.

Basildon Council's Conservative leader, Tony Ball, said Dale Farm residents had been "living on borrowed time" and urged them to leave "peacefully and in a safe and orderly fashion".

He added: "The so-called supporters should also pack up their belongings and leave the site. If they have the Travellers' best interest at heart they will either leave the area now or confine their activities to helping the Travellers to leave over the coming days."

Chief Superintendent Tony Roe said: "A lot of missiles, fluids and other objects had been stored. Intelligence suggested that there was going to be serious disorder if the site was entered."

But Travellers also complained of the police violence they had witnessed and the waste of public funds. Mary Sheridan said: "This eviction is going to cost so much, they could have bought us all five-bedroom houses but we wouldn't want them. We just want to stay here. It is difficult to believe that much in resources could be put into kicking us out of our homes.

"They could have left us. We live in the mucky fields, we put hard-standing down around our homes and all we ask for is an electricity supply and a sup of water."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, said: "Let us remember that this eviction does not solve the problem but moves it somewhere else. These families are going to have to sleep somewhere tonight."

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