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Dale Farm: Basildon Council urged to drop cases
TWENTY-four protesters accused of obstructing bailiffs attempting to clear Dale Farm during the traveller evictions could avoid prosecution.
Basildon Council is being urged to drop its cases against the protesters after a district judge questioned whether the prosecution was in the public interest.
Legal representatives for the protesters have written to the council urging it to drop the prosecutions following district judge John Woolard’s remarks at a previous hearing in April.
The council is paying £90 an hour in legal fees to take the cases to court.
The protesters were summoned to court by the council and are accused of obstructing bailiffs by refusing to come down from trees or locking themselves to barricades – offences which are dealt with by local authorities rather than police.
In a letter to Basildon Council, solicitors from Hodge Allen and Jones wrote: “We consider the decision of the police to take no further action and their failure to refer this matter to the CPS for a charging decision is indicative that such a prosecution is not appropriate either because evidential grounds are not satisfied, or that such a prosecution is not in the public interest.
“As such, we fail to see how it can be considered by a local council that such a prosecution is appropriate, when the CPS did not.”
Lawyers say the maximum fine for the offence, under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, is £1,000.
Their letter added: “Inhabitants of the area would consider the £90 per hour legal fees being charged by the council for this prosecution to be a waste of scarce public resources, especially when considering the context of the nature and circumstance of the alleged offence.”
Council leader, Tony Ball, said: “The site clearance of Dale Farm was a difficult task carried out to ensure the law was applied equally and fairly.
“This task was made more difficult by a number of protesters who obstructed council contractors trying to carry out their job.
“This is a criminal offence and the council felt it was appropriate that cases were brought against these protesters in both the interests of upholding the law and in the interests of local taxpayers.
“However, we are carefully considering the comments made by a judge in a recent hearing, along with representations received from solicitors.
“No decisions have yet been made on future cases.”