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Gypsy Chief 'Asked For £6m Sale'

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A travellers' leader representing the UK's largest illegal settlement asked for £6 million to sell up and move the families to another site, the council involved in the case has said.

Richard Sheridan, president of the Gypsy Council, which is fighting the removal of families from Dale Farm, near Basildon in Essex, had a series of meetings with Basildon Council in which he offered to move the families to either Birmingham or Scotland, the local authority said.

Council leader Tony Ball said the sum asked for was "hugely above" its market value,

Last week the travellers lost their 10-year battle to remain at the site and were told they would be evicted on September 19. Although half the site is legal, more than 80 properties have no planning permission and about 400 people are said to be living there illegally.

The series of meetings to discuss buying out the travellers from the former scrapyard was revealed by the Basildon Echo.

The offer was turned down because the council believed it would mean the travellers profiting from breaking the law.

Mr Ball said: "The council has consistently sought a peaceful resolution to the Dale Farm situation and done all it can to avoid a forced clearance of the site.

"I have always said that I would listen to any offers made by the travellers that would help to avoid the forced clearance. Traveller representatives offered to sell their land to the council hugely above market value in return for clearing the site.

"I felt I should consider any legal solutions to avoid a forced clearance. However, clearly it would have been unacceptable to enter any agreement where the travellers effectively profited from breaking the law and this was a step too far."

Joseph Jones, a colleague of Mr Sheridan's at the Gypsy Council, said he did not know whether £6 million was asked for. But he added: "The climate of those meetings has to be seen in the backdrop of a community that is desperate to find any solution whatsoever."