BASILDON Council has agreed to lengthy negotiations with travellers before evicting them – minutes of a secret meeting seen by the Echo have revealed.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission says an agreement has been made for traveller spokesman Richard Sheridan – who has twice been jailed for cigarette smuggling – to lead a group to negotiate with council officials.

Unhappy residents fear this will further drag out the already lengthy eviction process.

Meanwhile, the council has still not gone out to tender for bailiffs.

David McPherson-Davis, a Ramsden Crays parish councillor, said: “This could take it to next year.

“The House of Lords said they should go, so why all this pussy-footing?

“The commission’s case was thrown out in court. Why are they given so much weight?”

The commission-chaired meeting at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, Wickford, in April agreed the council must first consider health problems of travellers, children’s education, travellers’ culture and housing needs. No timescale was set, but the council also agreed to promote relations between travellers and the settled community in the meantime.

The minutes added: “The meeting was very positive because both sides talked to and listened to each other in a respectful way.

“Further talking and listening will take place, building on positive progress.”

Mr Ball claimed the commitment would not stop evictions if needed.

He said: “We will go to as many meetings as the commission asks.

“The tender will soon go out.

“Agreeing to talks does not mean we will not use enforcement action if necessary.

“But it is in everyone’s interest to negotiate people leaving by choice to avoid the misery of eviction and the cost to the council.”

Council representatives involved in talks were council leader Tony Ball, chief executive Bala Mahendran, Chris Norrington, head of democratic services, Rab Fallon, housing strategy manager, Ndunge Kivuitu, equality and diversity manager and former council leader Malcolm Buckley.

Separate meetings open to all from Dale Farm, Crays Hill, and Hovefields, Wickford, and possibly settled residents, will also be held to report on the progress of Sheridan’s group.

The commission was reluctant to make the private notes public, but released them to the Echo after it said it would apply under freedom of information.