Friday, March 24, 2006

Ethnic Cleansing in Essex

I complained last year to the BBC about a misleading news report concerning the cost of cleaning up some land in Essex "after the Gypsies left". I pointed out that I had visited the site at Paynes Lane, near Broxbourne with friends, just a week before the eviction - which the media did not cover -and there was no sign then of the rubbish strewn on site. The families there had purchased this site for their homes and were taking care of it. In fact it was the council's hired bulldozers which piled up stones and debris, and spilled poisonous chemical toilet fluid on the land. The BBC report came months later.

This week the BBC and other news media reported the High Court ruling ordering a travelling family off council-owned land near Leeds. Once again we were given images and sound-bites suggesting Gypsies and Travellers are a public nuisance. But off-camera so far as the BBC and other bourgeois media are concerned, Gypsies and Travellers continue to be evicted from land which they own, families' homes are destroyed, and those hired by the councils charged with protecting the environment are the ones wrecking it.

When "squatters" were evicted in South Africa it sometimes made our television. We heard about "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia. When Israeli forces demolish Palestinian homes and bulldozers uproot olive groves there is quite rightly an international solidarity movement, and it occasionally - though all too rarely these days - gets news coverage. Since the mainstream British media don't want to let the public in Britain, let alone abroad, know what is happening in this green unpleasant land, I am posting two reports from longstanding Gypsy rights campaigner Grattan Puxon.

Ustiben report March 22, 2006


Grattan Puxon

Yesterday the bulldozers were sent in yet again to crush the homes of Travellers who by the British Government's own admission have nowhere legally to live. Basildon council, fulfilling its pledge to rid the district of unauthorised caravans, smashed up the homes of four families at Five Acre Farm. It was a merciless operation conducted by hired thugs. I saw small children on bicycles weaving past heavy machinery, dangerously close to a giant JCB. Huts and caravans were crunched flat like card-houses, as mothers stood by helpless.

Within hours, huge earth mounds had been piled around each yard. The stench from splintered drains and broken cesspit tanks was nauseous. The earth banks, blocking people from entering their own land, are illegal. The contractors, Constant & Co., and subcontractors H.E.Services and Terranova, are breaking the law and ignoring safety regulations.

One of the H.E.Services machines, during a previous eviction, smashed through the fencing on a yard which is under protection by a High Court injunction pending the outcome of a judicial review. Basildon council, led by Tory Malcolm Buckley,who pushed through the decision to spend up to five million euro ethnically-cleansing Gypsies, is undoubtedly the arch villain in this case.

He has his evil eye on nearby Dale Farm where nearly a hundred families know they are in line for the same treatment.; unless Buckley can be stopped. All human appeals and attempts at reasoned persuasion have so far failed. But the UK Government itself, in particular Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, must take its share of responsibility. He has exposed the shortfall of at least 4,000 yards or pitches needed by Travelling families. Yet his department have done nothing to curb the relentless ethnic-cleansing.

Local councils, hiding behind a smoke screen of planning regulations, are brutally hounding Gypsies from one part of the country to another. Moreover, they are not only behaving in an anti-social manner as Gypsy Affairs spokesman Joe Jones points out, but are habitually breaking the law. Millions have been spent erecting earthbanks around land owned by Travellers and trenching possible stopping places.

"This is wanton destruction of people's property," says Jones, who has reported increased harassment in neighbouring Kent. "Just who is being anti-social here?" A delegation from the new UK Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Forum will be urging the ODHM to step in and stop some of these illegal practices - which clearly contravene the Human Rights Act - when they meet Government officials on 6 April in London.



We, the undersigned, condemn all acts of ethnic-cleansing and forceful removal being perpetuated against Roma and Travellers around the globe. Aware of the mass forced exodus from Kosovo, pogroms in Romania, the raising of Romani homes in cities from Athens to Kaliningrad, from Budapest and Belgrade to Novisibirsk, we wish through this appeal to draw attention to the courageous stand being made by the residents of Dale Farm in England, among them eight pregnant mothers.
They are the victims of constant move-on operations and evictions up and down Britain, where thousands of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma have been "cleared" from their own land. Despite a racially-tainted vote by Basildon District Council to spend up to £3 million on destroying their 86 homes, they continue in the name of Travellers everywhere, a non-violent campaign to save their community from the bulldozer.We call for common sense, reason and tolerance.
Stop UK ethnic-cleansing: leave Dale Farm alone.
Add your names by emailing

Ustiben report March 24, 2006


By Grattan Puxon

Burned out caravans alongside the London M25 motorway bear witness to the ever worsening plight of Britain's 350,000 Gypsies. Scorched by the flames of a seemingly unquenchable racism, Travellers are determined to step up efforts to gain respect for their homes and their human rights.

Earlier this week, I reported on the home-crushing that has taken place at FiveAcres Farm, only a few minutes drive from the charred trailers at Birchfield Lane. And much, much more is going on unseen and unreported. Hundreds of families face eviction following the failure of Law Lords to protect caravan-dwellers with nowhere legally to live.

This has given a green light to local authorities bent on ethnic-cleansing who know that despite a new Government circular urging land provision for Travellers, councils are unlikely to get much stick if they carry on "clearing encampments". For the past four years, the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition has lobbied for legislative change. It has had a moderate success through the inclusion of assessment needs for Gypsies in the 2004 Housing Act. But no results from this are likely to be seen on the ground for some years yet. Moreover, it is now apparent that hiring a lobbyist cannot be a satisfactory substitute for self representation.

Indeed, bringing in outsiders was almost bound to cause uncomfortable inner tensions. Some have begun to complain, I think unfairly, that salaried staff in the burgeoning Gypsy industry, benefit a tad more than their Traveller "clients". However, it is the upsurge in eviction activity let loose by the Lords ruling and the frightening rise of racism which has led to a demand for a radical change at the top in the UK Gypsy rights campaign. A meeting of the most influential Gypsy leadership took place in Matlock, Derbyshire last Saturday (18 March) to call for the dismemberment of the flagging G&TLRC.
It could hardly continue without them unless prepared to tough out accusations of blatant usurpation.

DISBAND COALITION A proposal for a formal dissolution of the coalition is to be tabled, I understand, at its annual general meeting on 3 April. Waiting in the wings to take forward the campaign, under Gypsy control, is a new federation of frontline Traveller groups. "The coalition did some great work,"says Cliff Codona, chair of the UK Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Forum. "But it has gone as far as it could and needs to be replaced." Codona, who has just returned from a meeting with Roma leaders in Budapest, says the Forum is giving the UK campaign a growing international dimension. He is confident the federation will provide the grass-roots, working eventually to a common strategy in England, Scotland and Wales.

Links with Ireland, through yard-owners at Dale Farm and Smithy Fen, Britain's two largest Traveller communities, are already assured. Here the defence of homes and human rights has its footings in the firmest ground, a fact of which the Government, and a besieging anti-Gypsy opposition led by Tory MP John Baron, are well aware. Significantly, the historic assertion of rightful leadership, by Romanies and Irish Travellers alike, is happening on the eve of Roma Nation Day, 8 April. The Forum-sponsored Red Wheels Against Racism festival, an event which promises to bring togetherall those involved in this powerful resurgence, also marks the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the original Gypsy Council.

Meanwhile, in the run up to a meeting with the Office of Deputy Prime Minister on 6 April, a name and shame initiative has started against private companies hired to carry out ethnic-cleansing operations. It is on these firms, which have looted and burned Gypsy property across Britain, that racist councils depend to do their dirty work. We are already well acquainted with Constant & Co., the self-styled Gypsy eviction specialists. They tore up Cliff Codona's model Woodside caravan park, in Bedfordshire, and fired trailers and huts at Meadowlands and Twin Oaks Farm, in Essex and Hertfordshire. The total of their crimes against humanity builds by the month. Joe Jones, of Gypsy and Traveller Affairs, reports that Constant has cut a swathe of destruction through Kent.

At the same time, and often in partnership with Constant, police officers in that county, as elsewhere, ignoring recent efforts at diversity training in Travellers' needs, continue to hound families on a daily basis. But there are also new boys on the block earning their living off the suffering of others.H.E.Services, of Rochford, again sent their heavy vehicles to Basildon last week. For the first time, during the Five Acres Farm eviction, I also saw Terranova Group machines in action alongside Constant. For anyone who cares to let this Reading-based outfit know that you know what's going down, the email is:

Please also add your name to the Worldwide Save Dale Farm Petition

* GRATTAN PUXON is co-author with Donald Kenrick of "The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies" (1972), republished as "Gypsies Under the Swastika" by University of Hertfordshire Press (1995).

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