John and Mary Flynn are Travellers facing eviction from their home at Dale Farm in Essex—a scrap yard before Gypsies bought the land and made their homes there.
Like thousands of Travellers across Britain, the Flynns are asking that they be allowed a secure place to live. They want to be together in an extended family group, inhabiting their own mobile homes, small chalets and caravans.
Basildon’s Tory council has refused them a permit to live on the land as the yard falls within a greenbelt zone.
Despite facing eviction, the Flynns told the judge presiding over their hearing last week that they cannot accept a council flat, because their way of life depends on staying within their ethnic community.
Proceedings have been adjourned for a month but it seems likely that this will become a test case for Traveller rights.
The Flynns daughter, Michelle, also lives at Dale Farm. She says that her elderly parents would not survive an eviction.
“They would be dead within a week. The council might as well shoot us all,” she says.
Basildon council refuses to accept the need to re-accommodate some hundred Gypsies families at Dale Farm and the nearby Hovefield sites in the manner they request.
The Travellers say they want to stay where they are but would develop their own sites elsewhere if given permission.
Council leader Tony Ball has pledged to get rid of the Travellers—he claims there is no spare land.
But a government body has stepped in offering several locations and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) says Travellers are welcome to live on any of its land holdings, if Basildon agrees.
Basildon council made a surprise announcement at the Flynn court case, saying that it is breaking off any further negotiations.
Undeterred, Dale Farm Housing Association has submitted a planning application to create a mobile home park on an HCA site.
Unfortunately, the HCA proposal has not helped families evicted in a brutal operation at Hovefields, Wickford, earlier this month.
Homes were bulldozed by Constant & Co bailiffs and Travellers were forced out on the road with nowhere to go.
Out of seven families, two sisters alone found a legal plot in Braintree.
Others headed for Kent while four caravans ended up on a car park belonging to the HCA but leased to Selex Systems.
Ignoring a legal requirement to consider welfare needs, Essex Police moved them on the next day—despite the presence of two pregnant mothers, a lad with learning difficulties and small children who had just been through the trauma of seeing their homes bulldozed.
Section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act (l994), a piece of legislation which has proved to be the death knell of the old travelling life, was used against them that night when they tried to find respite at a car-wash forecourt.
Under the Act, police have the power to direct Travellers to leave land (excluding highway land) without making welfare enquiries.
Exhausted, the four families entered HCA land at Gardiners Lane, Basildon, one of the locations proposed for a permanent site.
But this time the HCA itself objected and the police issued another Section 61 order.
The families ended up in Bedfordshire—and were allowed to stay after a midwife intervened on their behalf. She asked Bedfordshire Police to let the families remain on some factory land the rest of that night.
Essex University Human Rights Law Clinic is now preparing a complaint against the police for repeated misuse of Section 61, which it says may have amounted to deliberate harassment.
Gypsies in Britain, like Roma across Europe, face deep-rooted racial prejudice.
This will be challenged again in court on Friday of this week when Matilda Boswell—the only person among the families at Hovefields able to obtain an injunction stopping Basildon council from busting up her property—will seek a judicial review of the decision.
Travellers and Gypsies are set to protest outside the court with a growing number of supporters.
They are standing up against a concerted and relentless effort to pressure them to abandon their community-based life.
Grattan Puxon is secretary of the Dale Farm Housing Association. For more infornattion contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Protest in support of Matilda Boswell at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London, Friday 24 September, 11am
- Support meeting for Travellers: Tuesday 28 September, 7pm, LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, London, E1 1ES