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20 DAYS TO SAVE OUR VILLAGE; Time running out to stop travellers' development: EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: JONNY GREATREX

RESIDENTS fighting to protect the 'traditional centre of England' from a gypsy invasion have just 20 days left to save their village.

Locals in Meriden, Warwickshire, are preparing for a second Bank Holiday battle with the travellers - because that is when a council Stop Order issued against them runs out.

The 28 day order was passed by Solihull Council after villagers launched a spontaneous campaign to halt the gypsies, who swarmed onto green belt land next to their homes last weekend.

They blockaded roads and formed human barricades to stop the unwanted newcomers receiving trucked-in materials to build hard standing for their mobile homes.

The travellers had hoped to finish the work before planning bosses from Solihull Council returned to work after the Bank Holiday weekend.

But the local authority issued an emergency Stop Order in response to the resident protests.

Now those in charge of the campaign - Meriden Residents Against Illegal Developments (RAID) - have told how they are making plans to bolster their efforts when the Stop Order runs out on May 29.

"The problem we have is that after the 28-days expires, the council has no power to prevent work," said David McGrath, 50, who has become leader of the protest group.

"We have a meeting with the council next week when we hope to find out what they plan to do.

"We have sent a clear message to the council, police and others that we want to know what action they will take to make sure other work is not allowed to happen.

"If we have not received assurances by day 29, we will do everything legally to ensure that we maintain the success we've experienced.

"I don't want to say too much, but there is a plan in place if that happens."

David, who served as a councillor in Birmingham in the 1990s, was on holiday with his wife in Torquay, Devon, when they received a phonecall to say the travellers had moved in.

They raced back from the south coast to help with efforts to repel the invaders.

While David was hurtling up the motorway farmer Lawrie Arnold, 65, found himself the reluctant leader of the residents, as they worked to stop the travellers completing their building work.

"I don't want to give the impression I felt myself to be in charge," said the father-ofthree whose sons Lawrence, John and Andrew helped their dad organise the resistance.

"I am a farmer and used to making decisions by myself and sticking to them, so that is what I did. Very quickly a small team of people came together and we all supported each other from there on."

Since then, what started as a spontaneous reaction to the travellers' arrival has now transformed into a slick, high-tech and well organised protest movement.

Two 24-hour watching posts have been setup, named Camp Barbara and Camp Nancy after the owners of nearby houses.

An early warning system is also in place which can draw 400 people to the site should the illegal work begin again.

And a website - www.meridenraid.co.uk - will soon have a section allowing people to donate money to the cause.

"It is incredible the amount of skills we have available in Meriden," added David, who almost died four-weeks ago after a blood clot caused by a broken ankle travelled to his lungs.

''The support we've had is wonderful. I asked for a few people to go to a council meeting and 40 to 50 turned up.

"Everyday I get about 30 phone calls from people asking what they can do to help and each time I check my inbox I have more emails."

Noah Burton, the owner of the land where the gypsies are encamped, declined a request with the Sunday Mercury for an interview.

To offer support to the villagers of Meriden visit www.meridenraid.co.uk.

CAPTION(S):

CAPTION: Dave McGrath and Lawrie Arnold next to the travellers campsite in Eaves Green lane, Meridan.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 9, 2010
Words:665
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