Last-ditch High Court bid to prevent bailiffs entering site from midnight
By Andrew Levy
Backing: Actress Vanessa Redgrave, right, speaks to the media at Dale Farm alongside traveller Mary Ann McCarthy, second left, and Dale Farm supporter Anne Kobayashi
She has never been shy to speak up for a controversial cause.
And last night Vanessa Redgrave was at the centre of a fresh dispute as she backed ‘strong, wise, warm and gentle’ travellers in their fight against eviction from Europe’s largest illegal camp.
The veteran actress arrived at the 1,000-strong settlement at Crays Hill in Essex to say that kicking out the inhabitants – who must leave by tonight under the terms of an eviction notice – would breach their human rights.
But neighbours accused the 74-year-old of ‘interfering with something she knows nothing about’. They have complained of threats, anti-social behaviour, petty crime and fly-tipping.
Support: Miss Redgrave visits Gratton Puxton, far left, baby Caitlin Mcarthy and her mother at the site ahead of tomorrow's eviction day
Property developer Len Gridley, 52, whose land is bordered by the site, said: ‘She is an actress who doesn’t live in the real world.
‘She is like all the Left-wingers and tree-huggers who come here. If they really knew what it was like they would be on my side of the fence.
‘She’s got plenty of property – let her have them. I think she’d have them on her land for a week and then she’d change her mind.
‘She shouldn’t be interfering with something she knows nothing about. This is green belt land and it should stay green belt land.’
Big issue: Dale Farm is the largest Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller site in the United Kingdom
Another resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said: ‘We have suffered for years while the travellers have acted like a law unto themselves and used the legal system to sit tight.
‘Vanessa Redgrave has no right to stick her oar in.’
The actress, who has made more than 80 films, is a prominent Left-wing activist who has backed causes including the unification of Ireland, nuclear disarmament and opposition to the Iraq War.
Speaking at the traveller camp, she said she hoped ‘humanity would triumph’, adding: ‘The whole situation is really about planning – there’s no crime that’s been committed.’
Earlier in the day, she said: ‘I am certain that the eviction is illegal under international, mandatory, human rights conventions. I am appalled that such an action can be upheld by our Government.’
Protest: The residents of Dale Farm say the eviction is a massive waste of public money and that they will put up resistance if police try to force them out
Resistance: The Dale Farm travellers say that they won't go quietly if police move in. Many locals fear the situation will turn ugly
Dozens of legal plots have existed at the Crays Hill site for decades but hundreds more travellers began developing land there a decade ago and have used human rights laws and legal aid to fight Basildon Council’s attempts to move them.
The Court of Appeal finally ruled last year that more than 80 families on 52 plots should leave, but the travellers have threatened violent resistance.
Today one of the travellers, Mary Flynn, launched an 11th-hour High Court bid to stop the evictions on the grounds that she was suffering from ill health.
The 72-year-old said that if bailiffs switched off electricity at the site, a nebuliser she uses to aid breathing would cut out.
Mary O’Brien, a mother of two who lives at the camp, said last night: ‘These are our homes. We are not going to go without a fight. It will be bloody and violent.’
Basildon Council said warning letters would be sent to those who ignored the eviction notice.