British police have clashed with residents at the country’s largest travellers’ site in eastern England, which authorities said had been illegally occupied for 10 years.
Police and bailiffs using sledgehammers, crowbars and industrial vehicles moved on to the Dale Farm site in Essex on Wednesday morning to enforce an eviction order issued against 400 residents who had waged a decade-long legal fight to remain there.
Protesters attacked police in riot gear with iron bars, rocks and other projectiles, prompting seven arrests and the use of tasers by police, Essex police said.
A police spokesman said protesters had threatened “serious violence” and that police had used tasers to protect themselves.
But protesters accused police and bailiffs of using excessive force in breaking down fences and smashing low-rise brick walls.
“They knew exactly what they were doing when they started beating and tasering people,” said Mary Sheridan, a Dale Farm resident who has moved off the site and is now living with relatives.
Local council officials said efforts to peacefully resolve the decade-long battle over the six-acre site had been exhausted with little progress.
“I am absolutely clear that after 10 years of negotiation to try and find a peaceful solution to this, that actually what we are doing is the right thing,” Tony Ball, the leader of Basildon council, told reporters.
Authorities said they had received intelligence of serious impending violence and suggested protesters had stockpiled items to use against the police and bailiffs.
“I think we’ve seen from the level of violence put up by the protesters this morning that it was absolutely right that the police led the operation,” said Ball.
The dispute over the site began 10 years ago when the travellers purchased the land legally but did not get the proper permission to build on parts of it.
There are estimated to be around 30,000 travellers in Britain, most of Irish heritage, where they are recognised as a distinct ethnic minority.