Dale Farm eviction: Protesters removed from barricades

BBC's Mike Sergeant: "One by one the police are trying to get these protesters down off the gantry"

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Protesters who barricaded themselves above the entrance to the Dale Farm travellers' site have been removed by police as bailiffs prepare to move in.

Essex Police cleared the upper part of a scaffolding structure so it could be dismantled and machinery driven in by bailiffs to evict the travellers.

On Wednesday night Essex Police said that over the course of the day 23 people had been arrested.

The arrests were for violent disorder, breach of the peace and obstruction.

Dale Farm evictions - pic by Dominic Hurst Caravans were set on fire as police moved into the Dale Farm site

The operation, which began at 07:00 BST, saw clashes between police officers and protesters with one person Tasered.

On Wednesday evening security guards ejected Labour MEP and critic of Basildon Council Richard Howitt from the Dale Farm site.

Basildon Council said it had to "maintain stringent security".

A council spokesman said he had told Mr Howitt that he must request permission 48 hours prior to visiting the site, which he had not done.

He had been told he could visit the site on Thursday.

Earlier two caravans were set alight as officers and protesters clashed.

The travellers lost a final legal attempt on Monday to postpone the evictions, from the UK's largest travellers' site, but protesters pledged to fight on.

Officers spent much of the afternoon removing people from the 40ft (12m) high scaffolding on the gate, with the help of cherry picking machinery.

At the scene

Police arrived at Dale Farm at first light, when they streamed through a rear perimeter fence in riot gear.

An alarm siren sounded inside the perimeter and protesters gathered at the main gate rushed to the eastern side of the site where police were streaming in.

They engaged in hand to hand fighting with the officers who had come across the adjacent fields.

The operation was entirely police led and they were moving at jogging pace, driving back the protesters in a running battle.

Well in excess of 100 officers pushed people aside as they made their way through the site and I saw one traveller dragged and unceremoniously dumped.

Within 15 minutes they had complete control but I did not see a single bailiff with them.

Ranks of officers, including many from the Met force, lined up in front of the main gate and its gantry which has now become the symbol of the fight.

They were pelted with bricks, bottles and other debris and used riot shields above their heads as protection.

Police entered the back of the site during discussions, described by supporters as a distraction, at the main gate.

Electricity supplies were cut and protesters wearing masks said this had turned off crucial medical equipment belonging to elderly residents.

One resident said she had been hit by a baton. The ambulance service confirmed a woman had been taken to hospital with a back injury.

Two people were treated for smoke inhalation, one for a nose bleed and one for chest pains but there was no evidence it had been a heart attack, an ambulance spokesman said.

An Essex Police spokeswoman said on Wednesday afternoon that the situation had "reached a considerably more calm state than officers were faced with this morning".

Speaking at a news, Supt Trevor Roe said: "The tactic was to take early control of the site.

"We also needed to provide access for all emergency services should they need to enter and exit the site."

Police said they had received reports that bottles, liquids and bricks had been stockpiled and this was a threat to the public, including bailiffs and council workers.

Resident Kathleen McCarthy said: "Our entire community is being ripped apart by Basildon Council and the politicians in government."

The eviction, which could cost up to £18m, marks the end of a 10-year battle between the local council and travellers who bought a former scrapyard on green belt land in 2001 and established their caravans there.

Over the past few days, travellers and their supporters had reinforced the perimeter of the 49 illegal plots at the site.

The BBC's Alex Dunlop spent the night in the camp and was there when police moved in earlier

Basildon Council leader Tony Ball condemned the violence between police and protesters.

He said: "These are utterly disgraceful scenes and demonstrate the fact some so-called supporters were always intent on violence."

He said that "alternative bricks and mortar accommodation" offered to the travellers had been turned down.

Essex Police said that among those arrested were three people from London, a teenager from Buckinghamshire and a woman from Dorset.

The police spokesman added: "Police, working with bailiffs, have cleared protesters from the upper part of the scaffolding. There remains some people locked on to the lower parts."

Map of the Dale Farm site

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