On Saturday 29th October I returned to Dale Farm as one of a small team of legal observers, writes legal observer Susannah Mengesha. There’s an ever-growing list of required safety wear for observers – hard hats, high vis wear, steel toe capped boots which residents and guests don’t have to wear – as well as increasing demands upon them to provide personal information that we’re under absolutely no obligation to give.
Anyhow, since the previous week much of the inside of the Dale Farm main site had become one giant unrecognisable demolition area with much of the site having been razed to the ground. Diggers were a constant presence throughout the day. Dug up hardstanding, rather than being removed, was slowly being dumped to form a large barrier stretching around the proximity of the site. Bailiff and security presence remained very heavy, and movement across the site was extremely difficult and remained dependent on negotiations with bailiffs at each stage to pass temporary metal fences and gates which divide up the site. Conversely, the children (used to being able to walk freely and safely around Dale Farm) seemed to find their way through and play across the site, between the piles of mud and debris, occasionally chased off by security guards. Some homes were still in the process of being hooked up and driven away from the back of the site. The last families of the Dale Farm main site remain perched on their legal plots, as digging has continued all around them.
On Saturday whilst an uneasy peace was for the most part maintained between the families and the bailiffs there were confrontations throughout the day as residents were intermittently denied access to their own properties. Residents were able to identify specific bailiffs who had been particularly aggressive with them. We (legal observers) whilst attempting to document events or accompany residents around the site were sworn at, subject to physical intimidation and threats of being thrown off the site by the bailiffs. Some of these occasions have and will be the subject of complaints. I personally found the experience very distressing. I witnessed one bailiff quite openly saying in front of ‘legally homed’ residents: ‘I don’t give a fuck about the Order, I am just here to do my job, and my job is to get you out.’
Life appears to be becoming increasingly challenging for the remaining families of Dale Farm. They have just been told by the local Post Office that they will no longer receive post. Some of the properties not subject to clearance under the Order appear have been damaged as a result of vibrations from the surrounding demolition. As I sat in one lady’s family home, whilst diggers began to tear up her neighbour’s garden, chunks of plaster began to fall down from the ceiling onto our heads, and others smashed across the floor. When I returned to her home several hours later, a large split had appeared in her living room where the wall was supposed to join the ceiling. Continued access to running water was a concern for residents as water pipes on dug up sites burst and overflowed across the site. As yet, despite increasing pressures, the remaining Dale Farm families still living on the main site remain bloody but unbowed.
Susannah is a human rights activist. For the last decade she has worked in the voluntary sector, providing advocacy and advice to vulnerable people