By Grattan Puxon
Having played the racist card and raised hatred of Gypsies to fever pitch, Michael Howard, seen now as the most extreme rightwing Tory leader to take his party into a general election may soon watch in manifest sastifaction as homes go up in smoke.
Already, children have been terrorised, caravans burned and belongings wantonly destroyed. Now Basildon District Council has commissioned the private bully-boys at Constant & Co to draw up plans to raze Dale Farm, the largest Traveller settlement in the UK.
"This is not about moving on a few caravans," said an alarmed resident this week. "You're talking about flattening a whole village."
He said a crisis meeting will take place at Dale Farm tomorrow morning (31 March) to discuss the latest developments.
Howard, himself the son of Jewish immigrants, taunted Gypsies by arranging a pre-election stunt close to the settlement last week.
Worse, Tory council leader Malcolm Buckly, emphasising Constant's "experience in this field", has confirmed that his council is paying the firm £20,000 to prepare a detailed eviction blue-print.
According to local press reports, turning Dale Farm - for decades a licensed scrapyard - back into "greenfield land" would cost in the region of £1.5 million.
In the most recent eviction operation carried out by Constant for Hertsmere District Council at Ridge, it is alleged that mobile-homes were damaged and quantities of property set on fire. Two wheelchairs belonging to an elderly disabled person were crushed. A mother was prevented from taking her sick children to hospital and an old man knocked down.
Ten claims for damages under the Human Rights Act are in preparation against Constant, the council and Hertfordshire police. Sums involved may amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds. On this model, Constant and Basildon council, together with Essex police, could face claims of up to £10 million if an eviction at Dale Farm is attempted.
Meanwhile, the Traveller Community Project has presented Basildon with what its chairman Patrick Egan says
is a viable alternative; creation with council co-operation of a housing association that will build several small mobile-home parks for families who must leave unauthorised plots at Dale Farm.
Father Joe Brown, chaplain to Travellers, who is already involved in talks with Basildon, has been invited to take a leading part in the Dale Farm Housing Association. At the same time, no less than l5 new planning applications have been submitted to the council by Dr Donald Kenrick and a team of volunteers.