Category Archives: My Blog

There’s something about Dale Farm

The other day I visited Dale Farm in Crays Hill, Essex, allegedly the largest illegal Traveller site in Europe.

It was pouring down with rain and the place looked deserted. A resident with a young girl and dog in tow eyed my car with suspicion, but her face softened when I wound down my window and told her I was there to see Mary-Ann McCarthy.

The Dublin-born site matriarch waved from her doorstep and welcomed me in. Her mobile home looked as neat as a pin and the living room was plush with a cream leather suite and large dried flower displays.

Mary-Ann McCarthy: At home on Dale Farm

Mary-Ann, 70, has lived on the site for 10 years, which now houses three generations of her family. She insisted that the Travellers don’t want to break the law but they have nowhere else to go.

Death threats and police escorts

I also met Len Gridley, 52, whose one-and-a-half acres of garden backs onto the Dale Farm site. He said his outspoken opposition to the site has led to death threats and he is given a police escort home after council meetings.

He showed me aerial-view photographs of the site that stretch back to 2001 when the first eight families arrived and put up fencing and hardstandings without planning permission.  Now there are 51 plots and 86 families and Basildon Council is expected to serve a 28-day eviction notice at any time.

Mr Gridley said he doesn’t blame the Travellers in spite of the intimidation he’s experienced. He suggested Basildon Council is at fault for not nipping the illegal site development in the bud all those years ago.

It all started with a disgruntled scrap merchant

It’s interesting that it all started with a disgruntled scrap merchant who warned the council that he would sell his land to the Travellers, if he didn’t get the planning permission he wanted.  He wasn’t joking.

One wonders why it has taken a decade to get the go-ahead on an eviction that may cost the tax payer as much as £18million.  Such is the nature of planning law: the process can take so long if you’re determined to fight it every step of the way.

But the problem is that it isn’t just a simple planning application.  It’s actually a small settlement with none of the attributes required of one: no road infrastructure and no water, sewer or power networks.  These could cost a lot more than £18million, even if it was a suitable place to locate such a settlement, and who would pay for that?



A lesson in community cohesion

Dale Farm eviction looms

New warning about localism for Gypsies and Travellers

“Lives at risk” say Dale Farm campaigners

Localism: who’s really got the power?





Filed under My Blog

Striking a balance over gypsies and travellers

“Those who write and speak of Gypsies and Travellers often do not know them, and therefore do not often present a complete or balanced picture,” wrote Dr Rachel Morris in a paper for the Traveller Law Research Unit (TLRU).

Dr Morris was referring to the press who, she suggested, “represent Travellers in a stereotypical and prejudicial fashion.” That was 11 years ago.

I’ve tried tracking down Dr Morris, a job made harder because the TLRU at Cardiff Law School was disbanded in 2002 and now just exists as an online information portal. Rumour has it that she is now overseas.

As a journalism student investigating some of the issues around Gypsy and Traveller sites, I’d be interested to know what Dr Morris thinks 11 years on.

The bedrock of ethical journalism

Balance, impartiality, objectivity and use of a varied range of sources are, we students have learned, the bedrock of ethical journalism, although one can debate until the cows come home the question of how 100 per cent impartial or objective a journalist can ever be.

As I work on my journalism project for my Masters degree at Bournemouth University, I’m forever questioning the balance of what I’m presenting. I think my chosen topic is complex and emotive and there are always two sides to the story. Are both sides of the argument being given an equal voice though?  It’s no easy task.  Campaigners for Gypsies and Travellers are obviously willing to talk but gypsies and travellers themselves are cooler customers. Is that because of years of negative press coverage, perhaps?

An axe to grind

Then there’s the other side – people who have an axe to grind about Gypsy and Traveller sites. Maybe they’ve had negative experiences themselves, particularly of illegal sites, or fear the potential impact that a proposed site could have on their house value and their local amenities and environment. If they’re willing to talk, it’s often on the condition that they’re not named.

That said, public feeling is vented freely online.  One only has to look at comments posted in response to news stories about illegal sites where people feel safe in saying what they really think behind the relative anonymity of a username. The Gypsy and Traveller voice is conspicuously missing from those comment forums.

“A somewhat objective truth”

Dr Morris ended her paper with what seems an obvious point  – that journalists “owe it to themselves and to their profession to try and set standards and seek a somewhat objective truth.”

That’s my goal for this project. Follow me over the next month or so and tell me whether you think I’ve achieved it. It would be good to know.

Copyright for photos on this page: Susan Craig-Greene 


A lesson in community cohesion

Dale Farm eviction looms

New warning about localism for Gypsies and Travellers

“Lives at risk” say Dale Farm campaigners

Localism: who’s really got the power?


Filed under My Blog