Community At Centre Of Dispute

At the end of a rutted track stands a ramshackle scaffold rampart - the entrance to the Dale Farm travellers site.

On one side of a barbed wire-topped wall lie about 50 legal homes, on the other the contested 51 plots.

Most residents live in semi-permanent caravans and mobile homes.

The population fluctuates as residents, who own the land, spend six months a year on the road, travelling for seasonal work. But the illegal side is thought to house roughly 400 travellers.

To the travellers this is their home. Children have been born and schooled in the area for 10 years, their grandparents have grown old on this former scrapyard.

To opponents - including many of Dale Farm's neighbours in Crays Hill - it is a blight on the landscape, detrimental to house prices and a flagrant abuse of planning laws.

Jane Flynn was among the earliest settlers on the site and has four children.

She said: "We have put in for planning permission several times but it has been refused again and again.

"I pay council tax and my children go to school here - they are Basildon born and bred.

"People don't understand the traveller way of life. If I was born a Muslim, people would respect my way of life but because I'm a traveller they think it is okay to discriminate.

"We want to stay together as a community. Offering us houses doesn't solve the problem. There is no suitable site available to us so where are we supposed to go?"

Her friend, mother-of-two Mary O'Brien, added: "This has been my home for 10 years.

"I just wish people who criticise us would come down here and see how we live. We don't want trouble with anyone."

Margaret Culligan has a six-month-old son who suffers from Down's syndrome. She fears the eviction will disrupt his medical treatment.

She added: "I don't know where we're going to go. I'm terrified the electricity and water will be cut off in the night and I won't be able to care for my son."

The Dale Farm community is mostly made up of Irish travellers although there are some from gypsy and other nomadic communities. Both Irish travellers and Romany gypsies are recognised ethnic groups. Most describe themselves as devoutly Catholic.

Kathleen McCarthy has been one of the more vocal travellers, attending the failed bid for a High Court injunction to stop the eviction of 72-year-old Mary Flynn, who suffers breathing problems and uses a nebuliser.

Mrs Flynn is one of several older residents who suffer health problems and there are fears their care will be thrown into disarray by the eviction.

Mrs McCarthy has promised that any resistance will be peaceful and denies suggestions that supporters who have arrived en masse are simply there for the fight.

"We won't simply be forced from our homes but anybody who is welcomed on this site will resist in a peaceful way," she added.

"We will resist the bailiffs and build barricades but none of us have weapons or anything like that."