Riot Police defended their use of tasers on Dale Farm residents and supporters after a dramatic dawn raid today morning - the last stand of Britain's biggest Irish traveller community.
Up to 150 officers in riot gear broke through a back wall into the Cray's Hill community around 7am this morning, less than a day after the residents' final appeal against their eviction was rejected.
Protesters scrambled to regroup.
Some attached themselves to concrete blocks at the front gates, while others turned caravans into burning barricades and pelted police and bailiffs with rocks.
Yet at least one witness described an "air of resignation" among the travellers, with residents gathering on the legal part of the site to watch their supporters face off against police.
Police had arrested seven people by the time the Morning Star went to press, with four others taken away in ambulances.
Photographs posted on Twitter appeared to show police officers firing their taser guns at protesters and residents through gaps in the fence.
In one the target appeared to be a female legal observer standing a few feet away and holding only a notepad.
Official police policy states that officers must only use tasers in "incidents of violence or threats of violence of such severity that they will need to use force."
The Home Office told a Commons select committee last December that tasers "should not be used in terms of a crowd control measure in public order scenarios."
But Essex Police Superintendent Trevor Roe rejected accusations of unnecessary force, saying his officers had treated residents and protesters with "respect and dignity."
He confirmed officers had tasered two protesters but insisted it was an "isolated incident" where demonstrators were threatening "serious violence."
The officers' response was to protect themselves, he said.
"They carry personal protective equipment which includes the taser and they just naturally reacted as they are trained individuals to operate that device."
But Dale Farm Solidarity's Natalie Fox ridiculed the claim.
"Far from being the dignified eviction that Basildon council is claiming, this is set to be one of the most brutal evictions on record," she said.
"The council know that there are elderly and vulnerable people on site, as well as children, but they have gone in with a full frontal and brutal approach which is already resulting in injuries."
Resident Mary Sheridan agreed: "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."
The settlement at Cray's Hill in Essex is one of Britain's biggest traveller camps.
Dale Farm is home to more than 1,000 people, with the disputed half of the site housing 80 families.
Travellers moved onto the site in 2001 and legally own the land - but Basildon council has repeatedly refused to permit housing on the site, saying the former scrapyard is protected green-belt land.
The residents say they have offered to move if the council agrees to new pitches, but the deal has fallen on deaf ears.
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