Eviction battle looms at UK’s biggest gypsy site

A local council in Britain is preparing to evict more than a thousand people from the country's largest traveler site, which has been running for four decades, a move which some critics liken to ethnic cleansing.

­The operation to get them out may come at immense cost for Britain, and not only financially.

It is an age-old story – traveler communities being moved on, because they are not welcome where they settle. One of the biggest evictions in British history is being planned for Dale Farm, which is why the move is being likened to ethnic cleansing.

“I’ve got four kids living on Dale Farm,” traveler Michelle says. “It’s our home, it’s our lives. Where else are we going to go?”

Travelers have been living at Dale Farm since the 1970s. The settlement started off small, but then newcomers bought land around it and built homes without legal permission.

In the local town, feelings run high. Many people told RT the travelers are messy and noisy, driving the crime rate up and property values down. Most refused to talk on camera, saying they feared violent retribution. Those who did were guarded in their answers.

“I think that everybody should pay their whack in the way of rates and taxes, and I don’t believe they do,” a local man explained to RT.

“If people live around them, their house prices go down,” a woman said.

“They should be treated the same [way] as everybody else… I understand their plight but they shouldn’t be there, and [their settlement] shouldn’t have grown as big as it has,” another man agreed.

But others say the land the travelers built on was a scrap yard, not green belt, and the travelers are being persecuted because of their different way of life.

“I’m all for protection of the green belt. I do not think that that particular bit constitutes pristine meadow in any way,” a campaigner Ann Kobayashi argues. “I agree that there are always people in every community who, you know, mess things up. But this is common in every single community within the country. It is not unique to travelers and gypsies. And in fact, Dale Farm is a peaceful place compared to many housing estates in Basildon.”

Whatever the truth, Basildon council voted overwhelmingly to get the travelers out, and a court order backs them up. But it will not come cheap, with litigation and bailiffs and what could be a two-month-long continuous operation.

“If some of the threats that have been made by travelers, that they will fight, go through, and from other organizations, who are not travelers, who will come down just to have a punch up with the authorities, then the costs will really soar. It could cost up to £8 million,” town councillor Tony Ball said.

That figure rises to £18 million including the police operation – a staggering US$29 million. It is a particularly huge sum in austerity Britain, where cuts are being made to council funding all over the country.

The cost of the eviction has not deterred the council though, and nor have threats of violence from the travelers. Battle lines are being drawn at Dale Farm. The thousand-strong community swears it will fight, literally if necessary, because they have got nowhere else to go. And Basildon council will match that force with bags of cash – and the conviction that the law is on their side.