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Date Mon, 26 Sep 2011 09:15:15 +0300

Sunday September 25, THE pot-holed road leading to the entrance of Dale Farm is dirty, dusty and messy. Small, flea-ridden dogs, many of them scabrous or injured, scamper around suspiciously with the occasional growl or yelp as you approach. --- The scaffolded archway to the site, manned by self-appointed “protesters” with two-way radios and dark looks, is impenetrable to all outsiders other than the occasional smiling community police officer. --- That is, unless you know another way in. --- Not far from the guarded entrance, if you climb over a gate, under some barbed wire, along a rising wall and then through a small hole in a fence, the supposedly infallible defences are quickly defeated. --- There you can find yourself on what is probably the most hotly contested piece of land in the country, a camp owned by gypsies determined to stay but facing a council equally determined to evict them, seemingly at any cost.

Then there are the protesters.

The protesters have been here for all of about a fortnight but now, strangely, seem to be running the show.
Activists, anarchists, students, call them what you will; they have come from across the country to defend the gypsies, the travellers who do not travel, from the multi-million-pound operation to bulldoze the site.
The gypsies have been here, without planning permission for their raggle-taggle homes, for about 10 years.
The protesters have been here for all of about a fortnight but now, strangely, seem to be running the show.
Dale Farm sits next to another 34-plot encampment, known as the Oak Lane site, which although slightly run-down these days is legal (it received planning permission between 1992 and 1996) and is also inhabited by travellers.


Dale Farm itself is isolated (a few large gardens from nearby houses back on to it) but this is essentially typical Essex countryside.
Before the gypsies bought the land, it was used as a scrapyard.
Now it is beginning to resemble a rubbish tip.
The site is more untidy than it has ever been, one traveller says, implying that the anarchists have made the mess. She is no friend of the protesters or their tactics, she says, but times are hard and they need all the help they can get.
Questioned, she doesn’t seem to understand the concept of planning permission.
The site belongs to travellers, she argues, it’s in the middle of nowhere, why can’t they do what they like with it?
Pressed further, it begins to seem that although she might indeed understand the concept of planning permission, she doesn’t want to or, more likely I suspect, is pretending not to (the community here has, after all, had 10 years of constant challenges from the council to give her at least a basic grip on the subject).
A few other travellers have said similar things recently, since the bailiffs started building their military-style compound next to the site, ready to move in and disperse them.
Yet wilful ignorance is not going to help the gypsies’ case, weak as it already is.
Nor are the protesters.
Anarchists, activists, students alike, they can embed their hands in as many vats of cement as they want and park as many vans against the entrance to the site as they can muster. Rather than drawing the hearts of middle England to their “cause”, however, these protesters may strengthen the public’s feelings against them. As a result, the two groups appear to make very uneasy bedfellows.
I overhear one protester discussing his last piece of “direct action”, targeting the next generation of nuclear power stations. Many of them seem amateurish, young and very middle-class.
Perhaps it is their “Gap Yah” and, rather than touring the world, they have simply stayed in this country to make a nuisance of themselves before sinking back into a life of university and income tax.
Back outside the camp, one journalist friend tells me of a laughable scene just beyond the barricade in which two protesters tried, and spectacularly failed, to make cement in a mixer, scratching their heads with puzzlement.
Another tells of occasions when, swinging in the scaffolding to take up observation duties in a makeshift watchtower, three would-be Tarzans lost their grip and clattered to the ground.
As for the anarchists, aren’t they supposed to believe that all property is theft?
Why then are they defending the gypsies’ “right of ownership”?
There are, however, a few waves of honest altruism here, whether misguided or not.
Leaving the site, walking back down the dusty road past a caravan manoeuvring towards the entrance, I meet Paula Langley, a woman dressed in a fluorescent jacket with “Independent Film Observer” on the back.
Paula, a 40-year-old former teacher, is no traveller and does not crisscross the country looking for protests. Her partner is a solicitor, she lives in Alton, Hampshire, and has two stepsons.
So what is she doing at Dale Farm?
“I am filming from the inside to make sure there is a truthful picture of what happens when the bailiffs go in,” she says.
“I have never done anything like this in my life and I am ashamed of what my community, the non-travellers for want of a better word, are doing here. Some of the language being used about these people is dreadful. I have never been treated more kindly than by the travellers on this site.
“They are spending £18million on this eviction. It is ridiculous. I can think of far better things to use the money on. This situation has brought me out of the coma I have been in for quite a while. I used to be head of special needs in a mainstream school and you realise that if the parents of the children here get kicked off the site, the children’s education will be the first thing that goes.
“When I see what is happening here, there is no other word that I can use except that I am ashamed of everybody involved in treating these people in this way.”
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