Dale Farm a year on

Patrick Egan speaks to the media at outside Dale Farm illegal travellers site after the completion of the council clearance operation.
Patrick Egan speaks to the media at outside Dale Farm illegal travellers site after the completion of the council clearance operation. Photo: PA

He tiptoes cautiously between dirty nappies and pools of sewage. Holding his nose and gritting his teeth he growls, "from asbestos to human excrement, you name it, it's here! It's a cesspit, one massive cesspit."

If only Patrick Egan could get a refund. He's one of the original owners of Dale Farm, once renting out land to some of the 80 families who lived here.

The people who built on the plots did bring this on themselves. But they couldn't stay on the side of the road anymore. There are no council plots for them. They have to live somewhere.

– Patrick Egan

I listen to him for a long time. We never saw Patrick Egan during last year's eviction, when the council spent £4.2m (an optimistic estimate) on clearing Dale Farm of illegal development.

Patrick watched on television in Belgium, but don't mistake that for irreverence. He reckons he's lost about £300,000 here, so trust me, he cares.

The problem is that his investment has quite literally turned toxic, at least if you believe Patrick's version of events. We look out at where wooden shacks once stood on concrete plots, surrounded by dozens of caravans. Now, the land is churned into trenches, filled with stagnant water and rubbish, wafting some pretty nauseating smells into the air. Patrick claims the land is contaminated, blighting the health of the travellers.

That's because many of the original families still live here. Not right on top of the old site, but as close as two metres away from it. Around 20 caravans returned after the eviction to park up on the road leading to Dale Farm. Last year I spent three months with the families, living with them during the eviction, so I recognise a lot of the faces here. Among them, the oldest member of the Sheridan clan, a legendary 81 years old (travellers rarely live beyond their 60s and 70s).

In a thick Irish traveller's accent Daniel Sheridan asks me, "Why couldn't they just leave me alone?"

Fat chance of that. Daniel and everyone else on the access road to the old Dale Farm site are parked here illegally - the council has already asked them to leave. Now a second eviction threatens.

"We were there for the first eviction and we'll stay for another eviction" Daniel states, as firmly as an octogenarian can. But then his voice crackles, and he begins to cry. "We've no other choice, where will we go?" he asks. The men of Dale Farm don't like to show emotion, so we turn off the camera and quietly close his caravan door.

The travellers aren't the only ones angry with Basildon Council. Many of the villagers who live near Dale Farm say this isn't the greenbelt they were promised by the Council before last year's eviction.

Len Gridley's home backs on to the site, making Dale Farm his bête noire. "I'm not going to wait any longer for this Council, I've been waiting 17 years already", he spits. Now he's threatening to sue the Council if a report by the Environment Agency, expected in November, shows Dale Farm is indeed dangerously polluted. "If I need to take legal action against them, I will", he says, having calculated that Basildon Council could owe millions.

But the Council's leader, Tony Ball, is standing firm. I ask him a year on what benefits have come from the eviction at Dale Farm. "The benefit - and there's no doubt there are still some challenges to deal with - is applying planning law equally and fairly across the whole borough", he says. That has always been Councillor Ball's argument, and he has firm political support all the way up to the Prime Minister.

I've asked the travellers time and time again why they built illegally. The answer is always the same, that they've nowhere else to go. Whether that is true and whether you sympathise, a year on Dale Farm is still a blight. Not just physically, but socially.

And as we pack up the camera and drive away, a five year-old girls skips through sewage next to us, and for a moment I forget what Dale Farm is all about.

For more on this story visit the ITV News Anglia website.