The final bitter exchanges in the decade-long fight to clear the UK's largest traveller site will play out this morning, with bailiffs moving in on Dale Farm in Essex as human rights observers camp inside.
As 150 activists inside the six-acre site were preparing makeshift walls, barricades and barbed-wire obstacles, lawyers mounted a last, desperate challenge against the eviction, set to cost £18m.
But with travellers remaining defiant of a council eviction order, a flashpoint with bailiffs, who were preparing for today's 8am eviction in an adjacent field, appeared imminent.
"A number of caravans have been moved for the sake of children and older people but the adults are getting very militant," Grattan Puxon, an activist and spokesman for the travellers, said last night. "I'd say we have about 150 activists here now."
As some 87 families were spending a nervy final night in their homes, lawyers were frantically trying to develop a court action against Basildon Council, claiming it had circumvented procurement procedures in appointing bailiffs.
Separately, the High Court is today due to rule on whether the travellers should, on appeal, be granted a temporary injunction, blocking the evictions.
Activists said that both actions are unlikely to work, and Basildon Council said the evictions would begin as planned. A council spokesman said bailiffs would use "reasonable force" to evict those who remained, but that it would fulfil any statutory obligation to house those vulnerable residents left homeless.
The arguments behind the dispute at the former scrapyard – human rights and unauthorised planning permission on 51 plots at the centre of them – appeared lost last night. A spokeswoman from the Dale Farm Solidarity Campaign said many residents had temporarily moved caravans on to the neighbouring legal site and human rights observers were present to witness the events as they unfolded.
"The only travellers now left are the ones that have nowhere to go," she said, speaking from the site, dubbed Camp Constant. One consolation, she said, was the media spotlight on the farm, which had helped to further the debate over the plight of the travelling communities.
That was of little comfort to Kathryn Flynn, a mother-of-three and a resident at Dale Farm for 10 years. "I'm moving on to my uncle's yard on the other side for tonight because I don't want my children to go through this," she said. "I'm scared of what the bailiffs will do. They smash up our trailers – our homes. I don't want my children to be in danger. Our children went to school for the last day on Friday.
"I don't know what to tell them about tomorrow. But we've got nowhere to go after Monday. We don't know what's going to happen to us."
Mother-of-four Michelle Sheridan, 34, said that she would be keeping her children with her, adding that many of the site's residents were single women and elderly people.
She said: "People here are scared and terrified. I have nowhere to go and I don't know what I'm going to do. I am here with my children and they will be with me. I'm their sole carer, that's my job. The bailiffs will have to come and take me forcibly."
Last night, in the absence of any more dramatic twists in the drama, such an outcome seemed inevitable.Reuse content