It’s 7am, and I’m sitting atop a bizarre scaffold-and-wood structure gently sipping a cup of steaming hot coffee. Also, I’m shitting myself in terror. Advancing across the field towards me are 200 riot cops, marching in ranks like a Roman Legion. I’ve been an Activist for quite a while now, been in many situations with the Her Majesty’s Constabulary before, but this is the first time I’ve felt this kind of ice cold terror.
I’d arrived at Dale Farm late the night before, stumbling bleary eyed into the dark camp. With me was my protest buddy, Tinkerbell. We’d only got the emergency callout text a few hours before, so had come quickly, ill prepared.
Once in “Camp Constant” I ran into several old friends. Hot coffee, a sandwich, catching up, then on to serious business. Those defending Dale Farm (Travellers and Activists alike) were divided into four groups, depending on the quarter of the camp they were going to defend. I chose my group and had a quick chat, then settled down by the fire for a sleepless night of nervous anticipation and Jaffa Cakes.
Morning gong was at 6am, despite the fact the bailiffs had told us they wouldn’t be entering until 8am. My team repared to go to the afore mentioned scaffold tower to discuss plans, backup plans and backup plans. We really didn’t have a clue what to expect, but we didn’t expect the 200 riot cops with tower shields advancing towards us in eerie silence.
Activists raised the alarm, and before the Police had breached the perimeter, a motley crew of around 70 Travellers and Activists were arrayed against them. People started throwing stones and bricks over the fence towards the cops, several of whom had begun hacking at the fence with axes. Soon enough, despite the best efforts of the defenders. They created a gap only just large enough to let them through one at a time. In order to push people back from this breach they fired off two tasers, hitting one man in the back as he attempted to flee.
Now the cops were on site the defenders changed tack. People begun locking on to barricades and other defenders began fetching re-enforced banners and shields, forming an impromptu shield wall facing the rather more disciplined police line. The whole thing started to look like a medieval battle.
The Police’s progress onto site slowed as they met with determined resistance from the defender’s shield wall. Several activists commented afterwards that there’s nothing like having a mother with a crying baby behind you, trying to pack her things and gather her kids to safety to give you fire in the belly.
The cops advanced, using round shields as skirmishers to drive people back, and tower shields to establish strong lines. They really were brutal, at one point trapping a Traveller and mother of three between their shields and a wall, battering her until she collapsed and then stamping on her back, fracturing it and putting her in hospital. At another point, a hippy type sat down in front of the advancing police line. Big mistake, He got out of hospital a few days later, I think.
Eventually they pushed their way to the main gate, where people were locked on underneath an old Soviet truck, right in the path of the Police. I and several other people tried to warn them of the lock-ons, trying to calm them down and prevent them crushing the prone protesters. We received a heavy beating for our pains.
Most remaining activists then mounted the 40ft scaffold tower over the main gate, and the situation calmed into a standoff that lasted the rest of the day. Some protesters and Travellers retreated away from the gate, set burning barricades and pelted the police, who were in control of roughly a quarter of the site.
People were also locked on underneath the tower, underneath the Soviet truck and further up, on a barricade inside the site. We watched as the Police violently cleared away all people around the lock-ons, including their “Guardian Angels” (supporters who’s only role is to look out for the welfare of the locked on person, negotiate for them, etc), and created a sterile zone around the tower. Finally, the bailiffs entered site in order to remove those protesters who were locked on ground level. I will never forget sitting impotently, watching them attempt to remove a young woman, locked to the front gate by both her arm and neck. That scum attempted to choke her, break her arm and then, incredibly, tried to remove a d-lock from around her neck using a standard power drill. I could hardly watch, especially since that young woman was a friend of mine. I was sure I was going to see her killed. It got so violent that the Police eventually stepped in and removed the bailiffs around her. She was eventually removed and arrested some 25hrs after first locking on. She was kicked and punched several times by bailiffs, and has some interesting bruises to show for it.
Now came the turn of people on the scaffold tower. A Police climbing team moved in, briefly (and politely) spoke to the people on the tower, and then left, promising to return in half an hour. In reality it was more like 2 hours. When they did, there was no politeness left. One person was tapered several times while locked on, and had to be treated in hospital for shock. Several others were punched or kicked.
All were removed after spending around 6 hours in the freezing wind, 40ft up on the tower
That night was bizarre. Three men turned up, professing to be Travellers from a site up North, having driven the whole day to get to the Farm. They worried people because they were loud (with Belfast accents), thuggish and very drunk. Oddly, they also claimed to be Real IRA, singing Irish Rebel songs, and threatening to bring the wrath of Ardoyne down on anyone who displeased them (which seemed to be everyone). Now I’ve met people who have connections with the Irish Armed Struggle, and believe me, they don’t go shouting about it, especially not within earshot of 200 riot police.
Also, they don’t threaten to use the IRA as a personal army, whenever anyone does something they don’t like. Make of that what you will. They were, at one point, caught trying to set fire to a lived-in caravan, and at another, broke an activist’s nose “just for a laugh”. The threat of fire terrifyed the travellers. When you live in wooden and plastic trailers, closely packed and surrounded by Calor Gas bottles, fire is not your friend.
Also after dark, a scaffold tower was set on fire. No-one knew who did it, but the three pseudo-IRA men were the obvious suspects. They were asked to leave several times, and eventually did the next morning, after much argument.
As I mentioned before, both me and Tinkerbell were ill-prepared for the Eviction. That night was miserable in the extreme. Cold, wet, hungry, and with the constant threat of police and bailiffs less than 100m away.
However, it did eventually end and dawn broke, cold and chilly. The bailiffs begun work at 8am, soon removing the last lock ons by the gate, who had by then been in position for 25 hours. They soon moved on to the final lock-ons, within the site. By this time, there was a massive bank of media cameras on site. Virtually every newspaper, news channel and photojournalist in the country had turned up. So, the bailiffs erected a Harris fence around the lock ons, covered with tarps, to prevent the removals being filmed. Unbelievably, they were aided in this blatant anti-freedom of the press move by riot police, who advanced to their lines, pushing the media scrum back over 10m. However, protester soon thwarted this, ushering journo’s up onto the roof of a chalet directly overlooking the lock ons. From this point, journo’s and activists were able to record some of the worst bailiff violence I have ever seen. Bailiffs punched, kicked and choked the two locked on women, and, when they realised they didn’t have the tools to remove one woman’s arm from a concreted oil drum, they bodily lifted her up and dragged her, concrete block and all, out of the path of their heavy machinery. She narrowly avoided loosing an arm in the process. The bailiffs met resistance for this, being briefly showered with bricks and roof slates.
The removal of the last lock ons allowed bailiffs to move heavy earth-moving equipment on site. This left the remaining defenders in a fix. Numbers were rapidly dwindling and there was nothing left between defenders and the bulldozers. They could remain, defend to the last or all leave together. During a truly heart-rending meeting, the Travellers decided to abandon Dale Farm, their home of more than 10 years. Several of the community’s leaders made speeches that almost make me cry as I recall them, saying, simply but eloquently, thank you to the activists who’d helped them. They spoke of how they’d grown to love the quirky bunch of misfits, anarchists and agitators who’d turned up to defend them, and they cried real tears when they spoke of the pain we’d gone through to defend them. In turn, activists spoke of solidarity, community and love, laying the foundations for a new network, the Traveller’s Solidarity Network, to defend Travellers and stop brutal evictions.
The Travellers were worried that all the remaining Activists would be nicked if they tried to leave, so in a remarkable, heart-warming show of real solidarity, the Travellers surrounded us, forming a human wall between us and the police, and we left, chanting “Save Dale Farm”. I am not ashamed to say that, like many others, tears were streaming down my face as we left, at the kindness of the Travellers, who, after all, were suffering the greatest pain of all, losing their homes.
Tinkerbell and I jumped the train back to London, heading to the Occupy LSX camp to wind down. That night I drank. Lots. I got drunk and I cried and I collapsed. I couldn’t cope with what had happened. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that line of riot police, I saw Traveller women with screaming babies being dragged away from their homes. Tinkerbell was just as bad. For weeks, any mention of Dale Farm would set us off. I have realised that what I had was a mild form of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. I had never experienced such casual racism, such brutal policing, and such pure, gut-wrenching anger at the State.
I’d never experienced such pure joy in resisting.
Over all, I’m glad I went, and I’m glad others went. Dale Farm was a landmark event, the first time members of the “settled community” had helped Travellers during an eviction. The foundations laid their will persist for many years to come, giving a headache for those who would cleanse this ethnic group from our lands.
And last of all, my most beautiful memory of Dale Farm. I’m on the scaffold tower in the blisteringly cold wind. Police all around, Supporters cheering us on. Suddenly a lone, Irish voice starts singing, and all of us join in:
“So Go on home British Coppers Go on home Have you got no fucking homes of your own For 800 years we’ve fought you without fear And we will fight you for 800 more”
Our time will come comrades,
Up the revolution!