A decade-long battle between British authorities and a community of Irish Travelers who have been living illegally on a former scrapyard must be brought to an end, a judge said Friday, but acknowledged the legal wrangling would drag on for days.
Justice Anthony Edwards-Stuart told the High Court he would rule Monday on a temporary injunction which is preventing a local authority from clearing the Dale Farm site, 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of London.
The judge also confirmed that the Travelers had launched a new legal challenge to prevent their eviction, which will go to court next week.
The local authority says the operation has already cost 8 million pounds ($13 million), and the total expense could reach 18 million pounds ($28 million).
"These matters have got to be put to bed sooner and not later," Edwards-Stuart said during the High Court hearing.
There are estimated to be between 15,000 and 30,000 Irish Travelers in Britain, where they are recognized as a distinct ethnic minority by the government.
Over the past few decades laws limiting unauthorized camping, economic changes and a desire to see their children educated led many to settle down _ sometimes legally, on land provided by the government, and sometimes on unauthorized plots.
Officials say the long simmering dispute between authorities and residents at Dale Farm relates to a a simple planning issue _ the 86 families own the land, but lack permission to pitch homes on it.
But the Travelers say they are facing discrimination _ the latest chapter in a centuries-old story of mistrust between nomads and British society.
The Travelers are a traditionally nomadic group similar to, but ethnically distinct from, Gypsies or Roma people. Their plight has drawn concern from the United Nations and support from celebrities including actress Vanessa Redgrave.
The conflict over the settlement has raged since 2001, when Travelers bought and settled on a former scrapyard next to a legal Travelers' site. The local authority waged a long legal battle to remove them, which it finally won last month.
Eviction was due to begin earlier this week and brought a tense standoff, with Travelers and their supporters chaining themselves to the gates of their camp as bailiffs moved in to enforce the eviction order.
On Monday the Travelers won a last-minute reprieve when a judge prevented bailiffs from removing any structures, including cars and mobile homes, from their settlement before Friday's hearing.
Edwards-Stuart said he would make a final ruling on whether or not to overturn that injunction on Monday, and hear other legal attempts to halt the evictions next week.
He said the evictions would ultimately be carried out, but that the residents were "entitled to be treated with dignity."
The Travelers have said they may agree to move out if they are given time to find another place to live.
Traveler spokeswoman Kathleen McCarthy said the judge had "listened to both sides of the situation," and she was happy about the weekend reprieve.
"I know it mightn't be a lot, but for us it's an extra few days being home, where our children can sleep," she said.
Local authority leader Tony Ball said he looked forward to the judge's ruling Monday.
"After 10 years, if it means just a few more days, then it's worth it," he said. "The public, the Travelers and the council need an end to this."
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless