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18 October 2011, 11:05
Travellers have locked down the UK's largest illegal travellers settlement in Essex as they expect bailiffs to begin a site clearance on Wednesday.
Last minute work to reinforce the barricades behind the main gate at Dale Farm at Crays Hill near Basildon, was under way and three people will chain themselves to the gate by the neck at dawn.
Two cars and a former Russian military vehicle have been parked behind the gate. Piles of wood and bricks have been gathered at several key points.
The number of supporters inside the site has fallen from more than 100 a month ago, when the council was first expected to begin the clearance, to less than 50 now. A similar number of travellers remain in their homes.
A delegation of travellers who walked out of a meeting with council officials earlier in the day said they expected bailiffs to arrive after 8am on Wednesday.
Dozens of bailiffs arrived at a compound neighbouring the site for last minute preparations. Two diggers and a crane were on standby. At a nearby police compound, van loads of officers arrived throughout the day.
At the earlier meeting, the council said it had only intended to discuss health and safety, not to negotiate. Campaigner Gratton Puxon said: "We raised health concerns about a number of residents, including one who needed medical attention last night.
"We also tried to discuss how elderly travellers will be able to access legal homes, which will stay, if roads and hard standings are destroyed. As things stand the council will not budge and can move in at any time and there is no hope of a resolution.''
Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said: "Resistance and violence as some are now suggesting will be in nobody's interest - especially not the travellers or their families. We now must get on with the difficult job of clearing Dale Farm in as safe and dignified a manner as possible - and that is what we will now do."
The clearance of 54 unauthorised plots, home to about 80 families, follows a decade-long row over the development of the green belt site. Last week the travellers lost a High Court bid to stop the eviction and on Monday they were refused the chance to appeal against the ruling.