AdvocacyNet News Bulletin 129 February 14, 2008
Dale Farm Eviction Crisis Reaches the British High Court
London, February 14, 2008: The British High Court is considering an
appeal by 86 Traveller families at the Dale Farm site amidst growing
concern that their mass eviction would create a major medical emergency
in southeast England.
The hearing started on Monday before Justice Collins, a senior judge on
the Court, and was expected to end on Friday. It is the most significant
development yet in the long-running Dale Farm controversy, which is
testing Britain’s commitment to the protection of vulnerable minorities.
The crisis began in June 2005, when the Basildon County Council ordered
the 86 families evicted from their homes at Dale Farm because they have
been denied planning permission. Dale Farm is in the Green Belt, which
is protected from development.
Last week, the Dale Farm Housing Association, which represents the
Travellers, interviewed 17 families that face eviction and found an
86-year-old woman in a wheelchair; her 76-year-old brother, who has been
deaf since birth; a 67-year-old cancer patient; a young mother who is
pregnant with twins; and two children with serious hearing disabilities.
"The medical condition of the Dale Farm population – particularly
elderly, single mothers and children – is precarious. Eviction would
create a medical crisis," says the Association report.
The report was compiled with help from James Dasinger, a Peace Fellow
from The Advocacy Project (AP) who is volunteering with the Association.
It has been given to Keith Lomax, the lawyer who is coordinating the
Travellers' legal defense team.
The poor health of the Dale Farm community is central to the Travellers'
case, because under Britain's Human Rights Act the Basildon Council must
show that the impact of eviction on the Travellers is outweighed by the
need to protect the Green Belt and respect the integrity of local planning.
But the Association's survey suggests that the risk to the Travellers'
health from eviction would far outweigh the impact of letting them stay.
Once on the road, they would be unable to find regular treatment for
chronic ailments. The education of their children, who attend the local
primary school, would also be interrupted.
The Basildon Council has refused to assess the impact of eviction on
race relations, as required by law, or find an alternative site for
Travellers. In December, the Council was told to find 81 new Traveller
housing plots by its own governing body, or Regional Assembly.
Justice Collins said on Monday that he expected to rule on the appeal by
Easter. While he gave no hint of the likely verdict, he described the
Council’s position as "unhelpful" on several occasions and said he would
call for a "rethink" of forced evictions.
Nonetheless, few are ready to predict the outcome of the High Court
hearing. Two government ministers and several planning inspectors have
ruled against the Travellers since 2005.
About forty Travellers hired a bus from Dale Farm and held a peaceful
demonstration at the Court on Monday, before attending the hearing in
the austere 126 year-old courthouse. Several said that reaching the High
Court is a major achievement for their advocacy and expressed confidence
in British justice. "Somebody out there must have a heart," said
Mary-Anne McCarthy, a 68-year-old widow.
Zach Scott, from Georgetown University, served as the first AP Peace
Fellow at Dale Farm last summer. AP hopes that Mr Dasinger, his
successor, will help the Travellers reach out to the mainstream human
rights movement and develop an IT project for young Travellers.
Last week, the Travellers received a strong endorsement from the Gypsy
Council, an influential UK-based advocacy group that plans to lobby all
members of the Basildon Council against eviction.
* AP has posted interviews and video footage of Dale Farm and the
demonstration < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JAyI-oB5dc outside the
* Read a timeline of the Dale Farm controversy
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