Stonehenge Campaign Notes 1988
POLICING: STONEHENGE ’88 CAMPAIGN
(Inspector Hiley of Salisbury invited accounts of the police action and this was prepared as an honest contribution, but the only result of this research was ten years of banning orders, turning Stonehenge into a “desert”)
When the Stonehenge Campaign announced their intention to focus on the demand for a festival, a police statement to the Press said there would be no festival and no gatherings would be permitted in Wiltshire.
Since when had it been the job of the police to prevent festivals or gatherings? Also the intention to “deport” people out of Wiltshire amounts to “internal exile” a policy everyone frowns on if it happens in the USSR, and which is a specific breach of human rights under European Law.
I conclude that this Press announcement, and the policy it promoted, were a failure from the police point of view.
1.It did not discourage people from coming, but impressed on them instead the urgency and importance of coming to defend their liberties. The right to travel freely in their own country, to meet and exchange information, and to worship, were all threatened. Thus the announcement made people more determined.
2. It also impressed on those of a militant viewpoint that direct action might be necessary because of the authories’ intransigence. Thus four attempts were made to enter the immediate area of Stonehenge by certain groups. Thus this would not have happened if some degree of compromise had been perceived possible.
3. Others felt encouraged because they did not take the police propoganda seriously. What was proposed was so preposterous, illegal and impossible to accomplish that an optimistic view of the outcome could be held. “They will be forced to negotiate” thought some, incorrectly.
4. This optimism was to some extent justified as the police were unable to stop gatherings, including a very large gathering which turned into a festival just before the Solstice. How this came about will be considered when we consider the Public Order Act.
5. This result seemed so unfortunate for police credibility that the view was apparantly taken that negotiation was impossible and a hardline policy was adopted at the Stones which it could have been fairly guessed was bound to lead to a disturbance of some kind. I focus later on why some flexibility could have helped at this stage.
2. POLICING THE WALKS
Never mind the legality, which I have already questioned, but the 1985 and 1986 showed police had the capacity to halt groups of vehicles. The walks were one immediate response to this situation and continued to grow slowly. In 1988 more people came on foot (a core of 300) and from more points of the compass.
Walkers could be hindered on the road under the provisions of the POA designed to break them up into small groups. This was done in 1987 but having heard no account of its use in 1988 I conclude that this policy had been abandoned.
Walkers should be free from the POA while camping, provided they are not perceived as threatening. But in 1988 we heard that Coventry walk were evicted four times in four days. They thus proceeded very rapidly across the country until they joined the London walk and were not then harrassed again. The POA was used to evict Bristol walk at Little Langford I was told. The circumstances were not clear.
However from Warminster to Hanging Langford, Bristol walkers were shadowed by vigilantes employed by the Wilton, Longleat and intervening estates. When the support vehicles reached the park-up site at Hanging Langford, they were met by men with shotguns, I was told. My informant claimed this land did not belong to the estates, though I believe adjoining land does. This would seem to have been an illegal eviction and could have led to a serious breach of the peace. Why were police not involved in this incident?
Bristol walkers enjoyed very good relations with the villagers at Hanging Langford and at Shrewton where they even spent a night on the recreation ground. They spent a week in this general area waiting for other walks to arrive in Wiltshire. There was no police presence when I met them camped in a green lane at Shrewton. However nearby residents said police told them not to give the walkers any water or even talk to them! Despite this a conversation soon developed while I was there and other people did provide water. There was no police presence when I joined these walkers as they left Shrewton on Saturday 18th June and they were then allowed to pass by Stonehenge Monument.
London walk spent a long time over the Hampshire border. On Friday 17th June I met them while they set up camp on Henry Edmunds’ land near Cholderton Hill. This camp was maintained as a walkers’ camp limited to 11 vehicles to stay outside the provisions of the POA. This was done by fixing a notice to a tree and blocking the entrance with cars. This was an experiment to show how such a compromise situation could work. It does not, as I shall now explain, mean that people accepted th POA or the way it is used.
3. THE PUBLIC ORDER ACT
From an everyday, shall we say Common Law, viewpoint, most people would see that the police would intervene to prevent or stop riots. Similarily most people would accept that occupiers of land who did not own it would eventually have to leave, whether it took days or weeks.
The use of the POA can be criticised for going far beyond this Common Law viewpoint of policing. The following remarks apply to the use of Section 39.
1. It is used to by-pass ordinary eviction procedures in cases where ordinary observers would not percieve any threat to public order as such.
2. Police sometimes take the initiative in contacting owners and even putting pressure on them to use the Act. Sometimes the Act is used but the people who are asked to move by the police are not aware of any attempt by the owner to ask them to leave. Police are accused of flouting the procedures of the Act and of stirring up trouble between owners and trespassers before there is any trouble.
3. There is legal confusion about what “reasonable steps” people should take to leave. This is highlighted in the Tesco case where it seemed the prosecution succeeded even though defendants were visibly at work on their vehicles and might be presumed to intend leaving when it became possible for them to do so. Most people would think these defendants were taking reasonable steps.
4. The Act is discriminatory. I called it the “Public Order (Prevention of Hippies) Act 1986”. Would police press landlords to evict holidaymakers who had 12 vehicles? I suggest they might not. Yet when I go to Stonehenge and other events I am a holidaymaker on official leave from work. Do police make “social enquiries” about tresspassers? It seems they must, as it is gypsies as well as “New Age” travellers who are discriminated against. But this is a kind of racism, and thus threatens public order rather than supporting it.
5. The use of the Act is arbitrary. Some landlords refuse to use it. Sometimes police press them, sometimes they remain neutral. Festivals in Wiltshire seem to be seen as a threat to Public Order while in other parts of the country they are not seen as a threat and do not lead to disorders. This suggests that the use of the POA in Wiltshire is just a pretence.
6. In 1988 I heard riot police appeared in a field giving people 10 minutes to leave. This was in the Ogbury area. This could not have calmed the situation but was confrontational. Also it is hard to see how the procedural steps specified in the Act could have been carried out in this case.
4. THE PUBLIC ORDER ACT AT CHOLDERTON
On Sunday 19th June I was in Margaret’s Woods near Cholderton and at 2.20PM a neighbour handed me a letter which was a Public Order announcement issued at 12.30PM. On reading it I realised I was being given 10 minutes to leave. This was absurd. At 2.30PM however a helicopter flew over the woods shouting that 3 hours were being given. This confusion in the nature of the Order already suggested doubts about what the police actually intended.
I have already explained why people did not respect the POA considering it to be discriminatory and not used for genuine purposes. I will suggest some reasons why most people did not leave after these announcements.
1. The owner of the land had not asked them to leave. I do not to this day know who owns the woods.
2. The woods contain a number of rights of way which are driveable. There is no boundary between these rights of way and the woodland bordering them. Thus it could be argued, the site is a highway. Section 39 does not apply and people could not have entered as trespassers.
3. The practicality was questioned of police carrying out an eviction involving over 1000 people and hundreds of vehicles in a long thin plantation with access only at the ends. This would be on a Sunday evening. The most peaceful dispersal of such a group would take hours and extend into darkness.
4. Such an eviction operation might have seemed technically feasible. But it could not be seen as justified. The site was extremely peaceful. No offences had been committed during the occupation. Public opinion would have been severely critical of an attack mounted at this stage. On June 21st it was possible to say some people on the site might have committed offences at Stonehenge. The situation was different.
5. On that Sunday where were people to go? Next day was the day before the Solstice. They would have got into difficulties moving nearer Stonehenge and did not want to move further away. If compromise was possible, as many still hoped, it was from this site that we planned to walk towards the monument.
For these reasons it seems (i) The POA was successfully defied. (ii) Police decided not to enforce the Order. They were seen to back down but not to take up a new position. I have suggested that there was inadequate information about the numbers gathered in the woods but largely concealed by the trees. It is thought they relied on the POA announcements to work. When they did not there did not seem to be an alternative strategy available, either in terms of moving people, or entering into talks with them.
So far it has been easy to perceive what happened. The logical analysis is straightforward so I can feel confident of my conclusions. In dealing with the events of 20th and 21st June however, there is mystery and confusion. We do not know what relation existed between the police, English Heritage and other agents of the government. One can only suppose that if they were capable of flexibility in 1987, they refused to compromise in 1988 because they chose this course.
5. ENTERING INTO TALKS
Earlier in 1988 Acting ACC Hogarth had refused to talk to Festival Welfare workers. There was no point, he is reported as saying, as there wasn’t going to be a festival. He also refused to speak to the Travellers’ Aid Trust. Did he believe there weren’t going to be any travelllers ?
It is unfortunate that when police found themselves in a possition of practical retreat on 19th and 20th June that they had not set up even an informal link with any representative of the Campaign or Travellers Aid.
Nevertheless had they come to Cholderton site on the morning of the 20th June they would have found plenty of people eager to talk to them. Apart from members of the press and broadcast media they would have met Alex Rosenberger, editor of Festival Eye, who often acts as press officer for the Stonehenge Campaign, Alan Lodge of Travellers Aid, who has had experience in police liaison, and a group of Robins Greenwood Gang among others, all waiting for them. If the approach seemed difficult, NCCL observers could have acted as intermediaries as has happened before.
There is no doubt that talks were possible. Extensive concessions would have had to have been made. But the advantage of a negotiated settlement would have been the cooling off of miltant elements who were otherwise encouraged by the polarisation that took place. I can imagine a police spokesman telling English Heritage in no uncertain terms that there was a threat to public order unless access was made available for religious ceremonies later in the day.
While the movement has no leaders it has many messengers and the effect of an announcement creating a compromise would have been rapid. As shown in 1987 such arrangements can be made at short notice.
6. CRISIS AT STONEHENGE
When I reached Stonehenge at perhaps 2.30AM on 21st June I sat on the kerb. I had been awake since 9AM the previous morning and expected to wait in this uncomfortable position for many hours for an opportunity to enter the monument. No-one I had spoken to suggested that we were all going to be driven away after 6AM. We had no official communication, positive or negative. The walk to the Stones had been the logical next step, and we had taken it blindly, not knowing what would happen.
There was a degree of shouting particularly around the Hele Stone. People got over the fence from time to time. This was not different to begin with from the events of 1987, when disturbances had eventually died down. On this occasion I became aware that they were escalating dramatically when I saw missiles being thrown and then crowd barriers tossed at the police lines West of the Hele Stone.
At one stage four or five people climbed on top of the Stone itself. This seemed to be the last straw for the riot police who threw a wedge across the road while a helicopter shouted “the crowd at the Hele Stone must disperse!” I had no idea that we were going to be driven away from where we were, about 50 yards to the East. But I stood up when people between my position and the police stood up. They were being charged by lines with riot shields.
After a moment the charge reached the area I was in. “That will teach you to throw bottles!” shouted an officer. I pointed out I had not thrown any bottles and “you are persecuting innocent people here!” The officers had no idea of the mood of the crowd which was relaxed if a bit confused. Slowly we were pushed back by a series of advances with plastic shields. Similar scenes took place in the field where I saw truncheons brandished and people hit on the head. I saw two or three grabbed and arrested, seemingly at random.
The scene was unreal or surreal, like a badly staged film, I could not seriously believe it was happening. This sense of detachment allowed me to remain reasonably calm. There were some degree of hysteria in the crowd, but not what you would call panic. There were several women holding small children. They and others near them were protesting verbally against the charge and requesting police to be careful. They became more and more annoyed at the lack of response and communication they were getting from the officers. At this stage I was very close to the line of advance. Officers were grabbing hold of some people and attempting to arrest them. Others tried to intervene and there were minor scuffles. At one stage a group of about five of us fell over in a heap as we were caught in a charge. Someone helped pull me away from this incident. The crowd assisted each other in this way and there was a slow and orderly retreat.
When we had been driven past the fork of the road at Stonehenge Bottom there was a pause. We were now on the A303 towards Amesbury and it was before dawn but getting light, perhaps about 4.20AM. It seemed to me incredible, because it was not justified by anything the crowd were doing, but a line of attack was now forming across the dual carriageway to continue the charge. This was sudden and forceful and on (I think) three occasions the crowd on the road began to run. This was frightening as they threatened to knock us down or drive everyone into a stampede. I spent some effort shouting “Don’t run! Walk! Move slowly! Don’t panic!” as I saw the situation as potentially dangerous.
Meanwhile the charge continued in the field to the North where I saw a group of youths throwing stones at the police as they retreated. This was the only retaliation I witnessed during the advance. As it seemed the advance was going to persevere I and some others removed ourselves down the back road to Amesbury. I had begun to be concerned about my property at Cholderton and wished to return there before the police.
7. TROUBLE MAKERS
Later I saw a BBC TV newscast and I recognised two people from the festival site intervening and trying to stop the throwing of the crowd barriers. This was a detail I had not been able to see from my viewpoint. Only a small number of the crowd were involved in the affray which was confined to a small area in front of the Heel Stone. At one stage I saw two tall youths who had run back to our part of the crowd for a rest. They were in an excited state and seemed to be enjoying the action. One said to the other “You’d be a hippy if you didn’t do something!” What I perceived they were doing was spoiling it for everyone else, as I still believed that we could wait and get admittance.
Another report was of a conversation overheard that went along these lines “Do you remember Wapping?”, this referred to the street fighting during the print workers dispute. Also a TV documentary on Rural Violence is said to feature a youth from a town in Southern England who admitted coming to Stonehenge to cause trouble.
Like wasps to a rotten apple flocked not only some people from the travelling community, such as younger members of the group ambushed at the Beanfield in 1985 who felt they had a score to settle with the police, but others who would not normally come to Stonehenge at all.
There were the political elements, the “Wapping Connection”. There might be “Class War” supporters, who ironically are noted for hating hippies, and hooligans of no particular intellectual persuasion. They’d have gone anywhere there was a confrontation. Set up another confrontation and they’ll come. Call off the confrontation and they’ll hopefully stay away.
In the crowd where I was sitting quite a number were shouting and cheering as people got over the fence, and when the Hele Stone was climbed. They were otherwise passive and not vicious at all. If some other entertainment had been offered, like a more peaceful form of organised protest, a sit-down, dance, chant or whatever, they might have done that instead. The misfortune was that the total absence of negotiation gave no initiative to us in the “silent majority” believing in peaceful action. The initiative had passed to the militants and outside “provocateurs”.
Let me say I don’t think it necessary for anyone to have organised the “provocateurs”. The cynical suspicion is that a plan such as that executed by the police and English Heritage could have confidentially expected trouble makers to spontaneously perform. Thus the incident must have arisen at 6AM if not before, to deploy the riot police for a charge. Logic also decrees that having trained them, you have to look for instances to deploy them.
Wilshire Police say they were interested to learn from the experience
Well they didn’t, haven’t and wont!
the situation with respect to the festival, remains …………….