British riot police move in to clear illegal homes at center of controversy

Dale Farm travelers evicted
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Story highlights

  • NEW: Police say they are in control of the site
  • Police forcibly remove residents including a woman in a wheelchair
  • Residents of Dale Farm fought back with rocks, bricks and iron bars, authorities said
  • The local council says the homes are illegal
British riot police moved in Wednesday morning to clear a controversial group of illegal homes after a long legal battle -- and despite the United Nations' urging for a different resolution.
Smoke rose from the Dale Farm compound in Essex, about 30 miles east of London, as police dragged people out. An elderly woman in a wheelchair was among those removed.
At least one mobile home was set on fire.
The eviction "threatens 83 families with homelessness," residents of Dale Farm said in a statement early Wednesday.
"The only premeditated violence has come from the police. They knew exactly what they were doing when they started beating and tasering people," said Mary Sheridan, a Dale Farm resident left the site and is staying with a relative.
"This is not how a community should be treated by its own Council. It's illegal for us to travel, but illegal for us to settle down here. We're getting hit by the police but we've got nowhere else to go," she said.
There was an air of resignation among the residents who were left a few hours after the police operation started.
Most withdrew to the compound's few plots of land that have legal housing, leaving police facing off against nonresident activists who mounted scaffolding as part of a protest.
"We are now in control of the site, tension has reduced and bailiffs are now starting to actively take steps to clear the site," police superintendent Trevor Roe said by early afternoon.
Eviction day at Dale Farm
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Clashes continue at Dale Farm
Clashes continue at Dale Farm

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Clashes continue at Dale Farm 01:41
Seven people were arrested for offenses including violent disorder and breach of the peace, Essex Police said. Police used a stun gun on one person, they said, changing their earlier statement that two people had been shot with stun guns.
Dale Farm has been at the center of controversy for years, with local authorities insisting that the residents -- locally called Gypsies or "travelers" -- leave because they do not have planning permission for permanent residences.
A United Nations anti-discrimination committee last month urged British authorities not to go ahead with planned evictions as the residents lost their case in court.
Police entered the settlement from both sides, local authorities said.
Officers on the scene said they were moving cautiously because the main gate was heavily fortified.
But residents said police were smashing their way in with sledgehammers.
Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said defenders of the settlement fought police with rocks, bricks and iron bars, and set the mobile home on fire themselves.
"These are utterly disgraceful scenes and demonstrate the fact some so-called supporters were always intent on violence," Ball said in a statement.
CNN was not able to confirm independently who started the violence.
One resident said the community was being "ripped apart by Basildon Council and the politicians in government."
"The memory of Dale Farm will weigh heavily on Britain for generations. We are being dragged out of the only homes we have in this world," Kathleen McCarthy said in a statement.
Earlier, the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed "deep regret" that authorities planned to force the residents to leave "before identifying and providing culturally appropriate accommodation."
"Travelers and Gypsies already face considerable discrimination and hostility in wider society and the Committee is deeply concerned that this could be worsened by actions taken by authorities in the current situation and by some media reporting on the issues," the committee said in a September statement.