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Traveller site mismanagement probe

A council fighting to clear the UK's largest illegal travellers' site is investigating claims of mismanagement.

Basildon Council is currently locked in a High Court battle with residents of Dale Farm and their supporters with bailiffs employed by the Essex council due to begin clearing 54 unauthorised plots last month following a decade-long row over planning permission.

The council has now confirmed it had received a complaint from Stuart Hardwicke Carruthers, who is advising the residents' legal team.

Mr Hardwick Carruthers alleges mismanagement of the site dating back 30 years and claims that senior officials misled the council over whether a full clearance could legally go ahead.

One of the current High Court claims is based on supporters' argument that the council planned to "over-enforce" enforcement notices which did not provide for a full clearance.

He also claims the council dumped hardcore and clay on the green belt site before it was bought by residents - which may mean that previous planning applications were based on incomplete information.

A spokesman for the council said it was aware of the claims and said they would be dealt with under normal complaint-handling procedures. A response is expected within 10 days.

The complaint comes as council leader Tony Ball hinted he may resign if the travellers are not evicted by Christmas.

Speaking to the Basildon Echo, he said someone would have to be accountable if the battle to clear the illegal site of up to 80 families dragged on for several weeks, adding: "This is not about personality, and there are 28 other councillors who would do this instead of me, but as leader I am accountable."

At the most recent court hearing, Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, said he hoped to give his decision this week, but it was announced earlier that the ruling is now expected next Wednesday at 2pm.