Violent scenes as travellers evicted

By James HoreTRAVELLERS who were evicted from the land where they have lived for two years during violent scenes have accused the authorities of treating them like animals.

By James Hore

TRAVELLERS who were evicted from the land where they have lived for two years during violent scenes have accused the authorities of treating them like animals.

About 30 adults and children had been living at the site in Little Waltham since 2001, but were removed from the land yesterday by a firm of bailiffs employed by Chelmsford Borough Council.

There were angry confrontations at the site as about 35 men hired to clear the Meadowlands site moved in, backed up by police officers in riot gear.

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As the bailiffs moved onto the site in Cranham Lane, they were confronted by children throwing rocks.

Some of the bailiffs were allegedly assaulted, with four of them injured and two needing hospital treatment.

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The travellers had been preparing for the confrontation by digging ditches and blocking entrances with hardcore. Fires were lit and gas was released from cylinders as they tried desperately to prevent the eviction.

One traveller, John Nolan, said: “We will have to keep living on the road now, a lot of people have put all their money into these plots.

“They are breaking the fences down which cost people hundreds of pounds - it is disgusting. We have been treated like animals.”

Friends of the travellers came to the site to in a show of support, with some of them forming human chains to try to halt the eviction.

Catherine Harris, 27, a traveller from London, said: “I don't know where they are meant to go now.

“This has been a growing problem since the Criminal Justice Act stopped councils having the obligation to keep sites open for travellers.”

The violent scenes were the culmination of a long-running dispute over the land, which the travellers said had been bought with an understanding they had planning permission.

But the council insisted they were not allowed to live on the site and gave the travellers 21 days to leave the site - with a deadline of 8am yesterday.

When that passed, the bailiffs were ordered to move in to clear the mobile homes from the site and restore the area to farmland.

By last night all but two of the caravans had been cleared from the Meadowlands site and the operation was being hailed as a success, even though the cost had spiralled to more than £100,000.

Four people were arrested during yesterday's operation - three for violent disorder and one for obstruction.

Chelmsford Borough Council insisted it was not victimising the settlers and said the eviction had been the result of a planning enforcement issue.

Neil Gulliver, the borough councillor with responsibility for planning and transport, said the travellers had been given every opportunity to leave the land.

“It has been successful today, although the contractors will be on site for a few days and then the field will be ploughed.

“The travellers have started to speak to us and we will be able to point them to places elsewhere where they will be able to go to get access to a permanent site.”

A statement issued by the council said the Cranham Road site created a visual intrusion and was detrimental to the appearance and character of the rural area.

It added: “Chelmsford Borough Council doesn't have any land available for the travellers to move to. We are not aware of any public land that they can use.”

Gates to council parks were also temporarily locked yesterday to prevent the travellers moving illegally onto other land in the area.

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