“I’m very angry,” one woman shouts, face screwed up and emotions unchecked. “Why is that lady on the radio putting out all that c--p about us? I have three children. Where am I going to go?”Yes, it's the longest-running eviction battle I've ever known, and at last, barring a last-minute reprieve from a judge who'd never dream of having to live next door to these people, it'll soon be over.
The immediate source of provocation is Radio Essex, which is running a phone-in on the 10-year battle between Basildon council and the travellers who have been living here illegally since 2001.
Understandably, the travellers don’t take too kindly to the locals ringing in to say they should “go back to Ireland”, and calling them, “a bunch of people who are trying to avoid paying tax and ignoring the rules of the land’’. But the real tension is caused by the knowledge that, for many of those who have made their homes here, time is running out. Tomorrow, a 28-day notice issued by Basildon council requiring them to vacate the site will expire.Hurrah!
The travellers claim that, although the land is green belt, it was never a prized beauty spot. “It wasn’t all babbling brooks and big oak trees when we moved here,” says Bridget McCarthy. “It was a broken down scrapyard.” (The council confirms that a corner of the land had been used, without permission, as a scrapyard since the Sixties).I wonder by whom..?
The local primary, Crays Hill, is now almost exclusively a travellers’ school; 107 of the 110 registered pupils are from the travelling community. They don’t always turn up for class – the Ofsted report cites “significantly below average attendance levels” – and tend to lag behind their peers academically. Local parents have felt pressured into bussing their children out of the area to other schools.No doubt the teachers wish they could do the same! 'Welcome to Crays Hill, Miss Jones. Here's your key to the stationery cupboard, here's a class timetable and - oh, here it is - your Kevlar vest!'
The trouble is that there isn’t the same consideration for the rights and wishes of those who aren’t travellers. A wily few of the travelling community have become adept at exploiting legislation that’s intended to protect those who’ve been hard done by, and where they lead the others follow. What will happen next week?If the council is smart, they won't move in immediately the deadline expires. Give the assorted hangers-on and publicity hungry media whores a few days with nothing to report, and they'll move on to their next cause, or have to go back to their own areas to sign on.
Then the bulldozers can strike.