British actress and rights campaigner Vanessa Redgrave warned Tuesday "lives would be ruined" if inhabitants of Europe's largest camp of travellers, a traditionally nomadic people, were evicted as threatened.
The 74-year-old actress visited the Dale Farm camp in Essex, where more than 80 traveller families face eviction when a deadline to leave voluntarily expires on Tuesday night.
The notice was served on 52 unauthorised plots following a 10-year planning row, and preparation has begun for a multi-million pound police operation to clear the site next month.
"It's a day on which I have great hope that this strong, wise, warm and gentle community will have their rights protected and will not have their rights disintegrated," said the Oscar-winning actress.
"Communities up and down this country have been decimated and destroyed but there still are some communities that want to stay together and Dale Farm is one of those.
"The whole situation is really about planning. There's no crime that has been committed," she added.
A portion of the farm, which is owned by the traveller community, has no planning authorisation, and the community claims all the area's authorised pitches are full.
The travellers mainly trace their roots back to County Limerick, southern Ireland.
Local bishop Stephen Cottrell urged the Basildon Borough council to find a solution.
"I am here ... to show solidarity and care for a very distressed and frightened community," he said.
"We are also asking the powers that be to think again because sweeping up this community and evicting its people is not going to solve anything."
Source: AFP European Edition