Vanessa Redgrave and bishops fight Dale Farm eviction

Two bishops and an actress have visited an illegal travellers' site in Essex where more than 80 families are under threat of eviction by a local council.

Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell and Catholic Bishop of Brentwood Thomas McMahon, went to Dale Farm near Basildon on a pastoral visit.

Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave visited on Tuesday evening to support a bid to stop the removals.

Evictions from Dale Farm can begin after midnight on Wednesday.

Bishop Cottrell said: "I am here with Bishop McMahon to show solidarity and care for a very distressed and frightened community.

"We are also asking the powers that be to think again because sweeping up this community and evicting its people is not going to solve anything.

"They will be pushed somewhere else and they do not know where that will be."

'Unreasonable and irresponsible'

Ms Redgrave said "lives will be ruined" if the planned eviction goes ahead.

Image caption Vanessa Redgrave spoke to residents under threat of eviction from Dale Farm

She hoped violence could be avoided and that "humanity would triumph".

"It's a day on which I have great hope that this strong, wise, warm and gentle community will have their rights protected and will not have their rights disintegrated," she added.

The Oscar-winning actress said: "The whole situation is really about planning - there's no crime that has been committed.

"Evicting these families would be totally unreasonable and irresponsible. The council has said there are no alternatives but there are alternatives.

"The people of Dale Farm will go if there is an alternative site provided for them but Basildon Council will not sit down with these people and discuss that.

"Communities up and down this country have been decimated and destroyed but there still are some communities that want to stay together and Dale Farm is one of those.

"I've met nine-year-olds who go to school here and mothers with babies and they are part of the community. They have a right to stay here."

Ms Redgrave's visit comes ahead of a test case at the High Court on Wednesday afternoon which travellers hope will halt the evictions.

Basildon Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government insist the evictions are legal and that negotiations are continuing to find a peaceful resolution.

Planning for a multi-million pound policing operation to support the clearance has begun.

Activists from Sweden, Italy, Belgium and France, arrived at Dale Farm to set up the protest camp over the weekend.

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