Travellers move from Dale Farm ahead of eviction

Dale Farm aerial photo
Image caption Illegal pitches, to the left of the red line, are at the centre of the dispute over Dale Farm

A number of travellers have moved from Dale Farm in Essex ahead of the eviction due to begin on Monday.

Basildon Council said about 12 families had already left the unauthorised site at Crays Hill.

A spokesman said preparations continued ahead of the clearance, which is due to begin at 0800 BST on Monday.

But a last-minute meeting between residents and the council was cancelled after representatives were told by protesters they were no longer welcome.

Cllr Tony Ball, Leader of the council, said he was "very concerned" by reports that "so-called supporters appear to be calling the shots".

"We wanted to do everything possible to keep residents updated about the operation and to listen to any concerns and address any final requirements," he said.

"It would appear that we now have no line of communication to the Dale Farm residents.

"We are very concerned that tension has increased and it may now make our job of clearing the site in a safe and orderly manner even more difficult."

Prayers said

The council expects more families to leave overnight before the clearance begins on Monday morning.

But supporters and travellers resisting the clearance have spent Sunday making last-minute preparations, reinforcing barricades and building a wall to block the bailiffs' entry point.

The planned eviction follows a decade-long row over unauthorised plots.

Up to 400 people are thought to live on the 51 unauthorised plots, making it the UK's largest unauthorised travellers' site.

Father Dan Mason from Our Lady of Good Counsel church, Wickford, held Mass on the site on Saturday.

He said: "What was very distressing was seeing people upset, fearful, a few broke down in tears as they told me of their fears for next week.

"If people have another place to go we are encouraging them to go."

Police presence

Kathryn Flynn, mother of three and resident at Dale Farm for 10 years, said she was moving onto her uncle's site on Sunday night.

"I don't want my children to be in danger, so we're moving them.

"But we've got nowhere to go after Monday. We don't know what's going to happen to us," she said.

Essex Police warned residents to expect a "significant increase" in police vehicles during the eviction, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

The police have set up a temporary base at Barleylands in Billericay. Officers have been drafted in from all over the country but police say they will only act if there is a threat to public safety.

Some travellers and supporters have said they will resist peacefully.

On Friday a last-ditch bid to halt the site clearance was rejected by an appeal judge.

He refused to allow a challenge to an earlier High Court ruling which denied the travellers a temporary injunction to stop their eviction.

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