Human Rights Commission's secret talks at siteSaturday, July 23, 2011Follow
SECRET talks have been held between the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the borough council and travellers who are facing eviction from Europe's largest illegal gypsy site Dale Farm.
The discussions were cited as being "independent" by the leader of Basildon Borough Council Tony Ball. However, the travellers have claimed that Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the commission, is on their side.
Mr Phillips travelled to Dale Farm, in Crays Hill, on Monday morning along with Simon Woolley, a commissioner for the EHRC.
They later met with Mr Ball and representatives of the "settled community", although the itinerary was kept a closely guarded secret.
Richard Sheridan, the president of the Gypsy Council, accompanied Mr Phillips around Dale Farm, where 86 traveller families who live on the green belt site without planning permission are expected to be evicted in September in an operation that could cost the taxpayer up to £18 million.
"I believe he [Mr Phillips] is on our side," said Mr Sheridan. "He wants to take the adult approach. He would like to see the children going to school every morning."
Mr Sheridan, 40, described Mr Phillips, who was appointed EHRC chair in September 2006, as a "genuine and nice person".
"At the end of the day we are an ethnic minority and we have human rights," Mr Sheridan said.
"He is going to make sure our rights are addressed."
Mr Ball, however, rejected claims that Mr Phillips is on the side of the travellers.
He said: "They are independent, they came with a view that if they can help avoid a forced eviction, they will do what they can to help."
Cllr Ball met with Mr Phillips and Crays Hill residents at the Basildon Centre on Monday afternoon.
"It is the first time they have listened to representatives from the settled community as well as the travellers," added Cllr Ball.
"If they have got anything they can do, they will come up with some proposals."
A 2009 commission report regarding the inequalities experienced by traveller communities stated: "The continuing cycle of evictions associated with homelessness among caravan-dwelling gypsies and travellers is a shameful blot on the face of Britain."
It goes on to read: "Irish travellers currently at Dale Farm...experience the full weight of hostile political power, despite valiant legal and community struggles."
Mr Phillips declined to speak to the Gazette in person. However, a spokesman for his commission said: "It is in the interest of all parties to find a peaceful solution to the situation at Dale Farm. Neither the gypsy and traveller residents nor the wider settled community will benefit from a costly eviction.
"Representatives from the commission made a private visit to Dale Farm to listen to what all parties have to say to help find a way forward that is acceptable to all."