Villagers refusing to quit a protest camp set up after gypsies moved onto greenbelt in Meriden claim they’ve been warned they could face a £20,000 fine – or jail.
Solihull Borough Council has rejected a call by Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID) to let them stay at their Eaves Green Lane site until March 2013.
Instead, the council has opted for legal action against the protesters – despite giving gypsies until that date to move on.
The village campaigners, including many infirm and elderly, say they now face the threat of court action and a maximum £20,000 fine, or even a possible jail term.
The authority could also look into a Dale Farm-style direct action demolition of their 824-day camp.
Around 250 protesters have kept up a 24-hour vigil at the site since travellers arrived during the May Bank Holiday in 2010.
Neither the locals nor the gypsies have planning permission for their camps, but the travellers were told they could remain until next March following a High Court battle with Solihull Council.
Now, following a private planning meeting, councillors have voted to prosecute locals who have defied an enforcement notice issued in April to leave their site. The authority says it will consult lawyers before commencing any action.
Yet protesters remained defiant – with many stating they are prepared to go to jail for their cause.
RAID chairman David McGrath said: ‘‘The council could have given us the same extra time deal as they gave to the travellers who don’t live at the site at night but are causing daytime harm to the greenbelt.
“Instead they have gone for an option which will waste taxpayers’ money, even though we have stated that we will leave in March 2013 if the travellers keep to their agreement to go.
“We will not stop protesting until they go, even if that risks imprisonment.”
Wheelchair-bound grandfather Russ Thomas, 72, said: “I’m prepared to go to jail. It’s disgraceful the council can behave in such a manner.”
Retired welfare officer Jean Greenfield, 80, said: “I wonder where our equal rights are? It’s not feasible at my age to go to prison.”
In an email to RAID, the council had made it clear that legal action was now on the cards, with the maximum fine for breaching a planning enforcement order set at £20,000.
It stated: ‘‘Following a debate of the issues the Committee resolved that the Solicitor to the Council be authorised to issue legal proceedings if an advice is obtained from counsel confirming that such action would be both proportionate and expedient.
‘‘I confirm that we discussed the three options available to the Council to ensure compliance with an Enforcement Notice, those being, Prosecution, Injunction and Direct Action.”