Bishop Thomas McMahon from the Catholic Diocese of Brentwood and Bishop Stephen Cottrell of the Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford paid a pastoral visit to the Dale Farm site last Tuesday. They talked and prayed with some of the Travellers who face imminent eviction from the site by Basildon Council. Both Bishops also talked to the significant numbers of journalists on the site about their concerns.
The Bishops subsequently issued the following statement: 'The Travellers’ community at Dale Farm, near Basildon, invited us to visit them today. An eviction notice is due to take effect at 12 midnight tomorrow. We prayed with Christian and non-Christian families and children who are under extreme stress, and expressed our solidarity with them.
'This is a desperate situation. It is important that people should know that it is a humanitarian crisis, whatever they make of the legality and politics of the situation. The travellers are frightened and anxious people. If elderly and infirm people were shown on TV being forced out of their homes, we wouldn’t think we were watching something happening in England, but that is what will happen here.
'A mother has given birth today. Another woman, whose husband has died, has no vehicle to tow her caravan. What are they meant to do?
'The Travellers have lived at Dale Farm for 10 years. They bought plots of land in good faith where a scrapyard used to be. They were led to believe Dale Farm would be their permanent home.
'It may seem as though the Travellers are going to be swept away somewhere, but in fact they have nowhere to go. The Travellers recognise their days of travelling are over. They need permanent, secure places to live. Nationally the lack of authorised sites exacerbates the problem. The Travellers at Dale Farm have had stability and we hope the evictions will be halted. But even if the Travellers are forced out of their homes they have to go somewhere. They need permanent, stable homes.
The Travellers have an excellent primary school where their children are being taught. We spoke to a mother who cannot read but whose little boy has been taught to read in that school and is reading to her. The eviction will disrupt the children’s education.
We feel sympathy for Basildon Borough Council. The £18 million site clearance and policing cost will be a prodigal waste of tax payers’ money. But this is essentially an issue for national government. It cannot be left to local councils moving the issue from place to place.
Dale Farm is a close-knit community where three generations of families are trying to live together in peace and support one another. The community where they want to continue living will be destroyed if the bulldozers come in. The families will then be dispersed.
Many of the Travellers are Christians and are members of local churches. Parish priests are involved with them and offer prayer, support and care to them as they would to any other community.
We are urging Basildon Borough Council at the very least to postpone the eviction until a permanent and stable solution can be found, which will either allow the families to stay on the Dale Farm site, perhaps through retrospective planning permission, or identify alternative sites to which they can move. We are offering our assistance in helping to negotiate a peaceful settlement between the Travellers and the Council. The families have told us that they are prepared to peacefully move off the Dale Farm site provided they have somewhere else to go.
Bishop Stephen Cottrell
Bishop Thomas McMahon
See also: Guardian Dale Farm Travellers get Jewish Backing www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/04/dale-farm-travellers-jewish-backing
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