It's 20 years, since the major trashing of my community, travelling on the way the make the "Peoples Free Festival of Albion" at Stonehenge. It was a regular event on the calender.
It's 20 years, since the major trashing of my community, travelling on the way the make the "Peoples Free Festival of Albion" at Stonehenge.
It was a regular event on the calender. A little different to the 'managed access event' on the solstice, currently on offer from English Heritage.
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An exhibition I've contributed to, is currently at the Kebele Cafe, in Bristol.
Then, on the 20th April, it will move to The Sumac Centre in Nottingham.
Opening with a film showing of "Operation Solstice": a film describing the events of the day, and what we did about it.
and a talk by Andy Worthington, author of "Stonehenge - Celebration and Subversion"
More details at: http://www.veggies.org.uk/arc/event.php?ref=252
245 Gladstone Street, Forest Fields, Nottingham NG7 6HX
Ph: 0845 458 9595
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This is my account, of the events that day, and its aftermath .......
They said: something had to be done! Stonehenge appeared central to the situation. Police "Operation Solstice" was initiated.
Stonehenge and the `Battle of the Beanfield'
At a meeting of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), in early 1985, it was resolved to obtain a High Court Injunction preventing the annual gathering at Stonehenge. This was the device to be used to justify the attack at the "Battle of the Beanfield" on the 1st June in Hampshire. Well it wasn't a battle really.
It was an ambush.
It was a magnificent convoy stretching and snaking its way over the Wiltshire Downs, as far as you could see in either direction. It was a warm Saturday afternoon as we drove through villages, people stood outside their garden gates, smiling and waving at us. A carnival atmosphere with little evidence of the 'local opposition' that we had been lead to believe was one of the reasons for obtaining the court orders. A police helicopter watched overhead but there was little other sign of trouble until........
Seven miles from Stonehenge (the exclusion order was for four and a half miles), just short of the A303 and the Hampshire / Wiltshire border, two lorry loads of gravel where tipped across the road. Up to this point, no laws had been broken. I got out of my truck to take photographs when I first saw some twenty policemen running down the convoy ahead of me smashing windscreens without warning and 'arresting' / assaulting the occupants, dragging them out through the windscreens broken glass.
I and others who saw this were fearful of the level of violence used by the police in making arrests. Clearly we were in for a beating, again! Running back to our vehicles, we drove through a hedge in to the adjacent field.
The scale of the police operation was becoming obvious. The same level of violence had been applied to the rear of the convoy. Large numbers of police in many lines deep could be seen on the road forming up.
From then on, the situation grew more tense. More police reinforcements were brought up wearing one-piece blue overalls - without numbers!, 'Nato-style' helmets with visors and both full length perspex shields and circular black plastic shields. A 'stand-off' situation developed with sporadic outbreaks of violence.
Working with the festival welfare agencies, I was directed to a number of head injuries that has resulted from the initial conflict on the road. All of these injuries were truncheon wounds to the back of the head and some people were quite distressed. I was shown one man, about 20 years old who was semi-conscious with yet another head wound. I was fearful of him dying. An ambulance was called and I assisted the attendant and helped convey the casualty through police lines. The ambulance crew were initially apprehensive about their safety but assurances were given.
In between the taking of photographs, the copious first aid and concerns for my family and friends, I attempted to start negotiations and set up lines of communications with the middle-ranking 'line' officers. There was no 'middle ground' to be found, so, with others I organised a meeting with Assistant Chief Constable Lional Grundy. He was in charge of the overall operation. It was early evening before we were able to meet him. The tone of the meeting was 'do what your told or else!' He reiterated that people should be leave their vehicle and be arrested.
Because of the fear of what that might intail (after viewing the violence earlier in the day), those I met with were reticent about this. I met Grundy again a little later and attempted to reason further with him, but the ACC then threatened to arrest me for obstruction if I persisted.
Police in full kit were now massed in large numbers and obviously getting ready to charge. It turns out that police had been arresting a lot of people around Stonehenge earlier in the afternoon. At 7.00pm, Grundy had sixteen hundred policemen from six counties, Ministry of Defence police and some believe, army officers in police uniforms!!!
They had been briefed that we were all violent anarchists (see newspaper headlines earlier), rather than a bunch of young people and families with children.
The scenes that followed were recorded by media that had evaded the police blockade. The story was international news. 'Dixon of Dock Green' type policing was dead. That which Britain was noted for had now changed to para-military operations against minority groups.
Kim Sabido of ITN, a reporter used to visiting the worlds 'hot spots' did an emotional piece-to-camera as he described the worst police violence that he had ever seen.
"What we - the ITN camera crew and myself as a reporter - have seen in the last 30 minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I've witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. The number of people who have been hit by policemen, who have been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms in coaches around this field, is yet to be counted...There must surely be an enquiry after what has happened today".
When the item was nationally broadcast on ITN news later that day, Sabido's voice-over had been removed and replaced with a dispassionate narrator. The worst film footage was also edited out. When approached for the footage not shown on the news, ITN claimed it was missing. Sabido said.
"When I got back to ITN during the following week and I went to the library to look at all the rushes, most of what Id thought wed shot was no longer there," recalls Sabido. "From what I've seen of what ITN has provided since, it just disappeared, particularly some of the nastier shots."
Some but not all of the missing footage has since surfaced on bootleg tapes and was incorporated into the Operation Solstice documentary shown on Channel Four in 1991.
Public knowledge of the events of that day are still limited by the fact that only a small number of journalists were present in the Beanfield at the time. Most, including the BBC television crew, had obeyed the police directive to stay behind police lines at the bottom of the hill "for their own safety".
One of the few journalists to ignore police advice and attend the scene was Nick Davies, Home Affairs correspondent for The Observer. He wrote:
"There was glass breaking, people screaming, black smoke towering out of burning caravans and everywhere there seemed to be people being bashed and flattened and pulled by the hair....men, women and children were led away, shivering, swearing, crying, bleeding, leaving their homes in pieces.....Over the years I had seen all kinds of horrible and frightening things and always managed to grin and write it. But as I left the Beanfield, for the first time, I felt sick enough to cry."
During the charge, I took photographs, but I put my camera away. My (ex) -wife and I comforting and cuddles with each other for fear, before we were attacked..
530 were arrested that day ( both at the Beanfield and at Stonehenge), the most in any operation since the Second World War.
Photographic evidence is scant because of the nature of the action. Ben Gibson, a freelance photographer working for The Observer that day, was arrested in the Beanfield after photographing riot police smashing their way into a Traveller's coach. He was later acquitted of charges of obstruction although the intention behind his arrest had been served by removing him from the scene. Most of the negatives from the film he managed to shoot disappeared from The Observers archives during an office move.
A friend and fellow photographer Tim Malyon narrowly avoided the same fate:
"Whilst attempting to take pictures of one group of officers beating people with their truncheons, a policeman shouted out to get him and I was chased. I ran and was not arrested."
Tim Malyon's negatives have also been lost with only a few prints surviving.
One unusual eye-witness to the Beanfield nightmare was the Earl of Cardigan, secretary of the Marlborough Conservative Association and manager of Savernake Forest (on behalf of his father the Marquis of Ailesbury). He had travelled along with the convoy on his motorbike accompanied by fellow Conservative Association member John Moore. As the Travellers had left from land managed by Cardigan, the pair thought "it would be interesting to follow the events personally". Wearing crash helmets to disguise their identity, they witnessed what Cardigan described to Squall as `unspeakable' police violence.
Cardigan subsequently provided eye-witness testimonies of police behaviour during prosecutions brought against Wiltshire Police.
These included descriptions of a heavily pregnant woman "with a silhouette like a zeppelin" being "clubbed with a truncheon" and riot police showering a woman and child with glass. "I had just recently had a baby daughter myself so when I saw babies showered with glass by riot police smashing windows, I thought of my own baby lying in her cradle 25 miles away in Marlborough," recalls Cardigan.
After the Beanfield, Wiltshire Police approached Lord Cardigan to gain his consent for an immediate eviction of the Travellers remaining on his Savernake Forest site.
"They said they wanted to go into the campsite `suitably equipped' and `finish unfinished business'. Make of that phrase what you will, says Cardigan. "I said to them that if it was my permission they were after, they did not have it. I did not want a repeat of the grotesque events that I'd seen the day before."
Instead, the site was evicted using court possession proceedings, allowing the Travellers a few days recuperative grace.
As a prominent local aristocrat and Tory, Cardigans testimony held unusual sway, presenting unforeseen difficulties for those seeking to cover up and re-interpret the events at the Beanfield.
In an effort to counter the impact of his testimony, several national newspapers began painting him as a `loony lord', questioning his suitability as an eye-witness and drawing farcical conclusions from the fact that his great-great grandfather had led the charge of the light brigade. The Times editorial on June 3rd claimed that being "barking mad was probably hereditary."
As a consequence, Lord Cardigan successfully sued The Times, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror for claiming that his allegations against the police were false and for suggesting that he was making a home for hippies. He received what he describes as "a pleasing cheque and a written apology" from all of them. His treatment by the press was ample indication of the united front held between the prevailing political intention and media backup, with Lord Cardigans eye-witness account as a serious spanner in the plotted works:
"On the face of it they had the ultimate establishment creature - land-owning, peer of the realm, card-carrying member of the Conservative Party - slagging off police and therefore by implication befriending those who they call the powers of darkness,"
"I hadn't realised that anybody that appeared to be supporting elements that stood against the establishment would be savaged by establishment newspapers. Now one thinks about it, nothing could be more natural. I hadn't realised that I would be considered a class traitor; if I see a policeman truncheoning a woman I feel I'm entitled to say that it is not a good thing you should be doing. I went along, saw an episode in British history and reported what I saw."
For three days (and nights), without adequate food, sleep and many to a cell, we filled police stations across the south of England. From Bristol, where I was taken, to Southampton and London. We were then charged with the serious offence of 'Unlawful Assembly'. Most charges were eventually dropped after all of this.
Some had lost everything they had. Parents where frantic in locating their children, that had been taken into care. Vehicles had been taken to a 'pound' some 25 miles away and people had to go through further humiliation in reclaiming what was left of their homes.
Twenty-four of us took out a civil action against the Chief Constable of Wiltshire for the wrongs that were done to us that day. Nearly six years later at the High Court in Winchester, we won most of our case and were each awarded damages against the police. The Guardian said "Need to preserve pubic order does not permit the police to ride roughshod over the rights of ordinary people". After a four month hearing, (during which we were made to feel like we were on trial), on the last day, the Judge made an order on court costs that, as we were getting legal aid, meant we got nothing.
As Lord Gifford QC, our legal representative, put it:
"It left a very sour taste in the mouth."
To some of those at the brunt end of the truncheon charge it left a devastating legacy.
Things have never been the same again since the Beanfield. Throughout the rest of the year, whether in small groups or at events, travellers were continually harassed.
It had defiantly changed us in many different ways. There was one guy who I trusted my children with in the early 80s - he was a potter, amongst other things. A nicer chap you couldn't wish to meet. After the Beanfield I wouldn't let him anywhere near them. I saw him, a man of substance, at the end of all that nonsense wobbled to the point of illness and evil. It turned all of us and I'm sure that applies to the whole travelling community. There were plenty of people who had got something very positive together who came out of the Beanfield with a world view of `fuck everyone'.
The berserk nature of the police violence drew obvious comparisons with the coercive police tactics employed on the miners strike the year before. Many observers claimed the two events provided strong evidence that government directives were para-militarising police responses to crowd control. Indeed, the confidential Wiltshire Police Operation Solstice Report released to plaintiffs during the resulting Crown Court case, states: "Counsels opinion regarding the police tactics used in the miners strike to prevent a breach of the peace was considered relevant."
The news section of Police Review, published seven days after the Beanfield, stated:
"The Police operation had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners strike were implemented."
The manufactured reasoning behind such heavy-handed tactics was best summed up in a laughable passage from the confidential police report on the Beanfield:
"There is known to be a hierarchy within the convoy; a small nucleus of leaders making the final decisions on all matters of importance relating to the convoys activities. A second group who are known as the lieutenants or warriors carry out the wishes of the convoy leader, intimidating other groups on site."
If the coercive policing used during the miners strike was a violent introduction to Thatcher's mal-intention towards union activity, the Battle of the Beanfield was a similarly severe introduction to a new era of intolerance of Travellers.
20 years later, some of us still suffer the consequences of this action.
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Stonehenge: Further links about it all.
Beanfield Photo Gallery 1 http://tash.gn.apc.org/gal_beanf1.htm
Beanfield Photo Gallery 2 http://tash.gn.apc.org/gal_beanf2.htm
Solstice Ritual: http://tash.gn.apc.org/solst_0.htm
Injunction Papers: http://tash.gn.apc.org/stonehenge_papers.htm
My cell notes: http://tash.gn.apc.org/sh_bean-notes1.htm
The Story so far: http://tash.gn.apc.org/history.htm
All Systems: http://tash.gn.apc.org/allsystm.htm
For those with Broadband connection, I've also prepared these videos for streaming, do take a peek:
The first in this set, being 'Operation Solstice' :: The definative work on this issue.
Photographer - Media: One Eye on the Road. Nottingham. UK
WAP phone http://wappy.to/tash
My Blog http://tash_lodge.blogspot.com
Member of the National Union of Journalists [No: 014345]
"It is not enough to curse the darkness.
It is also necessary to light a lamp!!"
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