Friday, October 21, 2011

Dale Farm: "We lost," traveller concedes

By late Thursday it was clear that travellers at Dale Farm had lost their battle with Basildon Council as bailiffs moved onto the site to dismantle some of the plots. Defiance gradually waned throughout the course of the day as it became clear that the cause was lost. With electricity cut off and hundreds of riot police on duty, this was a community under siege.

39 arrests

As the sun rose over the site bailiffs began work to removed the last of the protesters from the scaffolding structure at the entrance to the site. They were shielded by lines of riot police from Kent, Surrey, London and Essex. One by one, the protesters who had chained themselves to the structure, were removed and arrested.

"Well done Josh," shouted one supporter as the first bespectacled protester was taken away by police. He along with the other remaining protesters were taken past a throng of photographers and TV crews before being checked for weapons and removed from the site in a police van.

A total of 39 people had been arrested by the end of the two day operation, charged with various offences ranging from obstruction to violent disorder [Echo]. It was clear that their arrest had not dissuaded some from abandoning their protest however. Some of those arrested the previous day could be seen wandering around the site and continuing to lend their support to the Dale Farm travellers.


With the last of the protesters removed from the scaffolding, work on removing the iconic barricade began. A mechanical digger soon pulled down the structure and pushed it to the side of an adjacent field.

There were some delays as gas bottles had to removed by hand. They had been placed within the structure by those defending Dale Farm. Whether there was ever any intention of using them as weapons is unclear, but the presence of more than twenty such items could have posed a serious danger especially in the event of a fire.

With the scaffolding, a van and car removed, police negotiated with the owner of a former Russian army vehicle in order to get it driven from the site. The owner was reported to have initially refused to hand over the keys to police. But by mid-afternoon the dread-locked protester was allowed to drive the large vehicle off the site as a bailiff sat alongside.

Rising tensions

On the site there were moments of tension as protesters and some travellers became agitated at some members of the media. In one instance a traveller attacked a Sky News television crew as a cameraman tried to film paramedics taking away a women on crutches. While one traveller pushed the camera another traveller began to threaten the crew and other members of the media picking op a nearby brick.

Protesters also joined the melee, shouting and pushing members of the press. The situation was defused by traveller women who persuaded the protesters and their men folk to withdraw.

Some photographers who had taken pictures of a young baby, after being requested to by its mother, were also threatened. A large and angry male traveller stormed into the group insisting they delete their images. "No pictures of our kids unless you want that camera in your face," the burly man stormed.

While most of the media has generally been welcomed by travellers, there has been some antagonism shown. In September when hundreds of members of the press gathered for the proposed eviction, some travellers were walking around asking if journalists and photographers were from the local Echo newspaper. "We don't want the Echo here," a traveller said, "because of all the lies they've written about us." He and a friend wend on to pepper their sentiments with a clear threat. "We'll beat the s*** out of them if we find any," one said.

"We lost"

Not all the travellers have been so hostile however. Some have been more than welcoming to members of the press. But it is mostly the women who have been in the public eye. As the afternoon drew on, one of the McCarthy sisters, who had been the public voice of the Dale Farm campaign, told the media that the fight was almost over and that they and the protesters planned to leave the site. The departure would be only a symbolic one since they would return to gather their possessions. "We Lost," Marie McCarthy told journalists [pictured]. "But we put up a good fight, " she insisted.

But then came an impasse as officials from Basildon Council entered the site escorted by squads of riot police. In a surreal and somewhat farcical scene, the two officials were taken from plot to plot surrounded by up to a hundred police in full riot gear. As they moved in formation, they were followed by a throng of media and dozens of travellers.

The action angered many travellers who were upset they had not been informed. Then it emerged that eviction notices had not been brought by Basildon Council and travellers said they would not leave until they had been served with the appropriate paperwork.

"Road to nowhere"

But it was clear the fight was over. Some of the last remaining travellers on the site made the decision to move on, though their destination was unknown. Even some of the travellers seemed uncertain. "We'll be on the road to nowhere," traveller Marie McCarthy said.

By the time the symbolic departure from the site began and the last of the travellers left Dale Farm, media coverage began to wane. Late into the afternoon it emerged that Col. Gaddafi had been captured and killed. With his death the story of Dale Farm also died.

Media coverage

Thursday's frontpages had been emblazoned with pictures of the battle for Dale Farm. But in Friday's press the final throws of the largest traveller encampment barely received a mention [Sun / Mirror / Express / Star / Daily Mail / Guardian / Telegraph / Independent].

There are some questions still remaining however. While the clearance of the site is complete, what is not clear is how Basildon Council will proceed. It is not known where the travellers have gone and there are fears amongst some that they will just become a problem for other councils further afield.

While there has been much criticism of the travellers, protesters, Basildon Council, bailiffs and police, some articles on Friday began to criticise the BBC who were accused of "ludicrous over staffing" by sending some 18 staff to the site to cover events [Telegraph / Daily Mail]. It must be said that many media organisations sent significant numbers of staff to Dale Farm. At times the numbers of media outnumbered the travellers and protesters, especially in the final days.

As the media depart, there still remains some uncertainty over the future of Dale Farm. Although they have no legal right to build or live on the land in many cases, the land is legally owned by the travellers. Some thirty travellers may still be allowed to live on the site in caravans, though permanent structures will have to be demolished. The future of Dale Farm is still an uncertain one [BBCSky News].

tvnewswatch, Basildon, Essex

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