Dale Farm Travellers are turned down from House of Lords

As of yesterday Basildon Council is free to evict hundreds of unauthorised traveller camps after the House of Lords refused to hear their case.

The appeal to the House of Lords was hardly looking very hopeful, even by supportive Lords themselves. On Friday January 30, Lord Avebury, part of the Traveller Law Reform Unit, said on his personal website that:

“Tuesday, Janet Whitaker’s question on the imminent prospect of eviction of the 400 Travellers from their site at Dale Farm, near Basildon in Essex. There is still a faint hope that they may be able to appeal to the Judicial Committee for a stay of the possession order, but the likelihood is even at the best that all these people including many children will be kicked out long before there is anywhere they could legally station their caravans. The Council say the eviction will cost £1.9 million, but that’s not the end of the story. The Travellers intend to move onto some other land they own, and the Council will need to spend another huge sum on a [sic] secind evction. There will be enormous costs for additional health, social security and children’s services for years down the line, and the life chances of the young people affected will be permanently impaired.”

What Lord Avebury has described as ‘a faint hope’ contradicts what Rebecca Wood has said, writing for the Institute of Race Relations, a respected UK think-tank formed in 1958:

“In a further blow to the Traveller families living at Dale Farm, the Court of Appeal has turned down their appeal application to the House of Lords, the final appeal court in the UK”. (A transaction of the hearing can be found here (doc))

Wood’s article continues;

“Dale Farm Housing Association has set up a monitoring group with support from the UN Habitat agency. The monitors will be deployed to track the way in which Basildon Council deals with the growing body of homelessness applications which have been lodged by the Dale Farm families. Currently sixty applications (covering eighty adults and 102 children) have been submitted to the council, although this number is expected to rise.

Basildon Council has said it will [sic] fulfill its duty to provide for families whose applications are accepted. But it has already rejected a joint housing application and some two dozen individual applications, claiming people had made themselves ‘intentionally’ homeless.

It has also so far rejected all requests for land where the ninety families involved could re-establish their community and continue to live in mobile-homes, saying it has no space for a mobile-home park.”

It should be noted that Wood’s article was written on the 29th of January, and though Lord Avebury’s piece was written on the 30th, it regarded a House of Lords debate that took place on January 27th (mentioned below).

Already there are groups and individuals offering themselves in the event of Basildon Council evicting the travellers without adequate re-housing, such as Fr John Glynn, parish priest at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Good Council in Wickford, who has offered his parish as a temporary plot for the evicted.

At the House of Lords debate on January 27th 2009 (where Lord Avebury was present), Baroness Andrews, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lab), told the House that she knew:

“the council has approached the EU’s civil protection mechanism and that it is already in direct contact with the monitoring and information centre. I am sure that it would be able to provide the centre with information.

However, there is no doubt that Gypsies and Travellers face great problems in finding authorised places in which to pitch their caravans and that is why we are urging all local authorities to be more proactive in that respect.”

Since the Traveller and Gypsy Council, including Grattan Puxon, have approached the EU for this monitoring, it is my understanding that the only reason why they could go further than the House of Lords (say, for example, the European Court of Human Rights) would be if Basildon Council were unable to locate another plot for the families they are evicting from Dale Farm. This is the reason why many of those awaiting eviction are now submitting homeless applications. (For example, “Kathleen McCarthy, from Dale Farm Housing Association has submitted a joint homeless application on behalf of 300 related residents.”)

Baroness Andrews, in that same debate, on the question of the council allocating a temporary site and re-housing under the terms of the Human Rights Act, said:

“each housing application is treated on its merits. I am sure that when vulnerable children are involved—and there must be liaison with children’s services, especially as regards newly born children and the family’s circumstances—the council will do its best.”

Since the council have been given the green light, the best that can be hoped for is that the council allocate the travellers another place to settle, and if the council do breach this, they’d be in breach of the Human Rights Act.

Some members of the local area are upset that the cost of the eviction for the council will exceed £1.9 million, excluding the costs of the second, temporary site, eviction (wherever that will be). But what such criticism fails to understand is that if its acceptable to appeal to the law and judicial decisions on greenbelt planning permission, then it must also be acceptable to appeal to the law on the issue of those who are evicted, and those who are registered homeless, having allocated temporary residency as stated by the Human Rights Act 1998. The council are obliged to do this, by law.

It looks as if this event will be Malcolm Buckley’s biggest and final task, since his decision to resign earlier this year.

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One Response to Dale Farm Travellers are turned down from House of Lords

  1. Pingback: Some background on the Basildon Traveller community « Though Cowards Flinch

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