Residents holding out against eviction from the UK's largest illegal Travellers' site have won an 11th-hour reprieve after a High Court judge granted an injunction preventing buildings at Dale Farm from being dismantled.
The Travellers and their supporters chanted jubilantly as the news broke yesterday that bailiffs would not be entering Dale Farm.
One said she hoped it would give them time to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. "It is so good, it is a victory," said Richard Sheridan. Another resident, Kathleen McCarthy, said: "It's the best news I've heard all day."
A decision about the eviction will be taken at a hearing on Friday. Ms McCarthy said: "I'm not going to blow a trumpet but now the council might know that we're human beings and this is not proper, what they're doing."
The day had begun in hope rather than expectation, as already despondent residents and protesters put the finishing touches to their makeshift defences.
Some attached themselves to barricades while others set up chairs behind the lines of defence guarding the front gates to the site, where they sat waiting for the clearance crews gathered outside.
Mr Sheridan, head of the Dale Farm Housing Association, said the residents were "ready for whoever comes in". But the bailiffs' visit proved brief.
A small group approached the gates and delivered a "final warning" to the 160 Travellers who remained on site, along with a similar number of supporters from outside the community.
'Emma', who attached herself to the gates by placing a bicycle D-lock around her neck, said she was not worried about getting hurt. "If the bailiffs know I am here, they cannot try to open the gate," she said.
Basildon Council said the Travellers who did not agree to "bricks and mortar" accommodation would be required to settle on legal plots. But it also admitted there are not enough legal plots to house all those facing eviction.
An injunction granted yesterday gives council officials until noon tomorrow to inform residents what enforcement measures are proposed, on a plot-by-plot basis, after Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart expressed concern that measures "may go further" than the terms of the notices. Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart will consider extending the injunction at 11.30am on Friday.