Open letter from European Roma Forum
Leader of Basildon District Council
St Martins Square
Basildon, Essex SS15 5RJ
(email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Rt Hon John Prescott
Deputy Prime Minister
RE: DALE FARM COMMUNITY
We are appalled by the decision taken by Basildon Development Control Committee on 24 January to re-affirm its earlier decision to go ahead with the destruction of Dale Farm, the largest Travellers community in the UK, along with the smaller communities at Hoverfields Avenue and Five Acres Farm.
These communities together represent a body of residents numbering more than 1,000, including among them many children, elderly and sick persons, and in the case of Dale Farm eight pregnant mothers.
It is hard to understand how a local council, given the responsibility for the care and welfare of all in its district, could have come to the conclusion that it must bulldoze the homes of some 120 families without providing them with any alternative accommodation.
Even more difficult to comprehend your reasoning when no less a person that the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK Mr John Prescott has proposed that such alternative accommodation could be set up at a location in Pitsea, also in Basildon, owned by English Partnership, a government-linked development agency.
The reason given for the planned bulldozing of Dale Farm is that it stands in a greenbelt zone, albeit mostly on a former scrap yard. But the Pitsea site is brown field, zoned for industrial use, and was previously used as a caravan park for Travellers.
Much welcomed is the intervention in this situation of the UK Commission for Racial Equality. And we cannot avoid concluding that their interest, concerned as they are with race relations in Britain, taints your decision with the implication of a racial bias and anti-Gypsy motivation.
Which other ethnic groups would you treat in this manner?By our people, by the residents of Dale Farm, it is now perceived as a case of ethnic-cleansing.
The Forum has already received written and video evidence from our UK delegates, Mr Clifford Codona and Mrs Kay Beard, of the circumstances of the community at Dale Farm and the threat they have long been under from your council.
We have also been made aware of the series of brutal evictions and countless "move-on" operations around the UK. These involve thousands of families forced to camp illegally for want of a legal place to stay and the destruction of a number of Romani-owned and Traveller-owned caravan parks, resulting in untold misery, hardship, danger and even deaths.
One aspect of this countrywide, piecemeal ethnic-cleansing, undertaken behind a smokescreen of planning regulations and overtly anti-Traveller sections of the Criminal Justice Act, particularly disturbs us. That is the employment of private security and licensed bailiff companies to carry out such a blatantly racist policy.
Among the companies we have seen in action on video film is that of Constant & Co., of Bedford. This firm was employed by Mid-Bedford Council to destroy the model Romani Caravan Site known as Woodside (part-owned by Mr Codona), by Chelmsford Borough Council, assisted by Essex riot police, to evict families from their own Meadowlands Caravan Park (during which at least two caravans were burned), and to come at dawn to Twin Oaks Caravan Park, near Elstree Film Studios, in January last year, to bulldoze homes and burn property (including a chalet).
Knowing that Mr Prescott is on the point of introducing new measures designed to bring about the provision of an adequate number of caravan parks (both private and council-owned), we are forwarding a copy of this letter with a request that the Government consider imposing a Moratorium on such evictions until a network of sites is completed.
We also believe that the conduct of Constant & Co. warrants an official investigation and the suspense of this company from all such eviction work.
Finally, we must point out that the decision to destroy Dale Farm through a "direct action" operation without provision of alternative accommodation flies directly in the face of the latest recommendations of the Council of Europe.
The European Roma and Travellers Forum last year formulated a number of proposals which have were taken up by the Council of Europe and placed before member countries for their adoption.
In brief these include:
1) that no eviction should take place without application to and the sanction of a judge.
2) that no eviction should take place without the offer of acceptable alternative accommodation.
Neither of these conditions is being fulfilled by your council. We are aware that you are employing powers under the Town and Country Planning Act in taking "direct action" but since this is without application for an Injunction, it is clearly contrary to the Council of Europe recommendation.
It is our request that you meet personally with representatives of Dale Farm, including members of the UK Forum. And we are making a similar request to Mr Prescott, believing that through reason and common sense a better outcome may be reached.
The simple solution, bearing in mind the Planning Appeals to be heard soon in respect of 40 yards, would be to leave Dale Farm alone. Such a solution would save a great deal of public money and also the reputation of Basildon, and indeed Britain, for justice and humanity.
European Roma and Travellers Forum
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