From the Guardian
A council is seeking to privately prosecute two dozen protesters for obstructing bailiffs during the eviction of Dale Farm, after police and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge them.
Basildon council is paying £90 an hour in legal fees to take the cases to court. Legal representatives for 24 protesters have written to the council urging it to drop the prosecutions, after a district judge overseeing the cases queried whether they were in the public interest.
The protesters are accused of obstructing bailiffs by refusing to come down from trees or locking themselves to infrastructure at the site as bailiffs attempted to remove Travellers from Dale Farm last October.
In a letter to Basildon council, solicitors from Hodge Allen and Jones wrote: "We consider that 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. "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," they wrote.
Lily Hayes, a supporter of Dale Farm and a member of the Traveller Solidarity Network, said: "This vindictive prosecution is typical of Basildon council's confrontational attitude towards Dale Farm families and their supporters. Instead of spending £90 per hour of public money on a case that the police do not consider to be in the public interest, they should be using their resources to help the 83 families they made homeless in October."
The council leader, Tony Ball, said: "The site clearance of Dale Farm was a difficult task carried out to ensure that 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 that 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."