Probe into new Dale Farm complaint

A council fighting to clear the UK's largest travellers site says it will decide whether to investigate allegations of mismanagement within 10 days.

Basildon Council has received a complaint relating to the planned clearance of 54 unauthorised plots on Dale Farm in Essex.

The complaint, by a Dale Farm supporter, alleges that senior officials misled the council on its ability to legally clear the entire site.

Basildon Council's chief executive, Bala Mahendran, acknowledged the complaint.

He said: "Given the potential serious nature of the issues raised, and in accordance with the council's whistle blowing policy, I will decide on the most appropriate course of action in relation to these matters.

"My intention is to respond within 10 working days, and according to due process.

"The issue will be dealt with as any other complaint or allegation and in line with our whistle blowing policy."

The complaint was lodged by Stuart Hardwicke Carruthers, who is advising the residents' legal team.

He claims mismanagement of the site by the council dates back 30 years to when hardcore and clay was dumped on the green belt site, meaning later planning applications may have been based on incomplete information.

Mr Hardwicke Carruthers also says council officials falsely advised that the site could be cleared in its entirety.

One of the current High Court battles rests on the claim that the council would "over-enforce" enforcement notices if it cleared all of the unauthorised plots.

Bailiffs employed by the Essex council had been due to begin clearing 54 unauthorised plots last month following a decade-long row over planning permission.

The latest row comes as council leader Tony Ball hinted he may resign if the travellers are not evicted by Christmas.

Speaking to the Basildon Echo, he said someone would have to be accountable if the battle to clear the illegal site of up to 80 families dragged on for several weeks.

He added: "If we are still in the same position, and Dale Farm is detracting from all the good work going on in Basildon, then someone has to be accountable.

"This is not about personality, and there are 28 other councillors who would do this instead of me, but as leader I am accountable."

At the most recent court hearing, Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, is expected to rule on the clearance of the site next Wednesday at 2pm.

Travellers' lawyers have argued that Basildon Council's decision earlier this year to take direct action to clear the green belt site of about 400 residents, including about 100 children, was "disproportionate" and must at least be reconsidered.

Lawyers for Basildon, who have fought a 10-year battle to clear the site, argued they had acted lawfully and reasonably and complied with their statutory duty.