In October 2011, Basildon Council undertook a brutal forced eviction that left 83 families homeless and living on the roadside. Now Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, has told the families that he made homeless that they must pay the £4.3 million costs of the eviction.
Basildon Council knows that the families have no way of ever paying this sum and have publicly stated that they will seize the Dale Farm land, which has been owned by the families for over a decade, in lieu of costs. This amounts to a shocking land grab by Basildon Council: the Dale Farm families should not have to pay for Basildon Council’s misguided, confrontational and costly eviction strategy.
A message from Mary Sheridan, a former Dale Farm resident and mother of four:
I came to Dale Farm when my first child was born 12 years ago. I grew up travelling everywhere and I never learned to read and write - I can’t fill out a form to pay the tax on my car, normal things and it is very embarrassing, because sometimes people won’t help you - they make you feel stupid, but you didn’t have the chance. I really wanted my children to read because of that. And the only way to get them to read and write is to have them settled.
You can’t travel any more anyway – the police don’t allow you to travel, the Government don’t allow you to travel. In the 90s people were told to get off the road and buy the land, so that’s what we did. I miss travelling now. It was lovely, but it also really hard because the police would make you move on really frequently, like every second day.
I never thought ever that we’d be removed from Dale Farm. I thought we’d be here forever, and so would my kids. Because it was a scrap yard when we bought it and we made it look lovely, beautiful. Saying if it’s greenbelt then it’s a reason to remove us – and that’s just a lie, that’s just covering up prejudice. It’s not that greenbelt can never be lived on, people do build on greenbelt land – Tescos and Sainsburys, flats and houses, get to go on greenbelt land.
After the eviction, it was really bad. Really and truly heartbreaking. When it was first finished I used to go up twice a day and look at my home. The way Basildon Council have left it is very heartbreaking. Something you loved so much – you know, because I loved that, I absolutely loved it, I planted trees there, we had a garden, we had a home, everything. I reared the kids there, all my memories, of all of them – there. And on that day it was destroyed, they made it look so ugly and so horrible. It looks like a bombsite, but bombs didn’t destroy our homes, Basildon Council did. They didn’t solve anything. They solved nothing. All that money they spent, all that time wasted, all that hatred – and we’re still here.
We didn’t want Tony Ball to evict us and waste all that money on making us homeless. We just wanted a bit of a wasted ground and he wouldn’t even give us that. I think that’s where Basildon Council went horribly wrong – instead of trying to help the travelling people, they just tried to get rid of them.
We’ve been living on the roadside next to Dale Farm now for a year and a half now. There’s old people, sick people, young children living with almost no electricity, no heating, no running water, and sewage and toxic waste running down off the old site from where they dug up the pipes. Everyone’s been ill. The kids are always asking, ‘When can we go home?’, and you have to tell them ‘Never baby, it’s gone.’
Now they want to evict us again, from this stretch of road we’re calling home. They could have let us stay or they could’ve let us have planning permission for another site somewhere else in Basildon - and it would’ve cost nothing. But it seems like they just want to force us out, whatever the cost. The way we're treated, it's like we're not human beings – we're seen as a problem that they need to get rid of. There are more Travellers than there are sites, so where do they expect us to live? Why would we stay here if we had somewhere else to go?
Basildon Council say we have to pay for what they did to us, they want us to pay £4.3 million for our own eviction. Imagine all the good things they could’ve done with that money, instead of making us homeless – new sites or putting it into schools or doctors for people. We didn’t choose what happened to us, they did – we’ve paid enough already, we’ve already lost our homes and had our community torn apart, but they still want more. Tony Ball says they’ll take the land – they know full well we’ve got nothing apart from that.
This isn’t really a human way to be living or to treat people. It’s not a way for government people or councils to be carrying on. It’s really horrible that in this century, people can treat people like that and get away with it. It’s absolutely horrible. I know our kids and other people in 20 or 30 years time, or 100 years from now, they are going to say ‘How did England let that happen?’