Residents of the UK's largest Travellers' site were braced for mass eviction last night after failing in their last-ditch attempt to save their homes at the High Court.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the community failed to win a temporary injunction preventing Basildon Borough Council from evicting the families from Dale Farm in Essex from midnight. The case hinged on the circumstances of 72-year-old Mary Flynn, who suffers breathing problems and uses an electric nebuliser.
The High Court in London dismissed the application but Basildon Borough Council gave a legal undertaking to review fresh medical evidence relating to Mrs Flynn before proceeding against her.
Mr Justice Kenneth Parker said that 2009 proceedings in the Court of Appeal relating to Dale Farm were of "crucial significance". That court concluded that the council's decision to enforce was entirely lawful. Yesterday, the judge rejected claims that a further step had to be taken enabling some individuals to have access to an independent tribunal. Refusing the injunction, he said the only aspect which gave him some concern was medical evidence of significant deterioration in Mrs Flynn's condition since the Court of Appeal decision.
Kathleen McCarthy, 48, a Dale Farm resident, said outside court: "What I understood by it is we've got seven days to hand in all the reports about all the sick people, and they're going to take another seven days reading it and looking at it.
"Well that's still 14 days for us. It's really a lot for us. To us, it is a lifetime. We have nowhere else to go and people are dying."
The Travellers at Dale Farm own the site but do not have planning permission for some of the plots there. Demonstrators, among them the actress and campaigner Vanessa Redgrave, gathered outside the court to oppose the eviction.
Speaking after the judgment, Ms Redgrave was downbeat. "I cannot bear it," she said. "I am not attacking the judge but all I can see is that peoples' lives are going to pot everywhere, not just at Dale Farm. They are making out that Dale Farm residents are the villains but they are not; they are decent people. They will be forced to live by the side of the road if they are evicted."
Inside court, she was embraced by one of the residents who, sobbing, asked her: "What will become of my children?" Campaigners set up Camp Constant at Dale Farm over the weekend to support the Travellers' cause.