Battle of the Beanfield - 20 Years on
SchNews 500 http://www.schnews.org.uk/archive/news500.htm#four
June 1st was the 20th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, a
notoriously brutal one-sided confrontation between 450 unarmed
travellers - including many women and children - and a quasi-military
police force of over 1,300 police and MoD. Bolstered by a mandate
from on high, and some dodgy injunctions, preventing 83 named
individuals from approaching Stonehenge, the police brought to a
violent end the 11th annual Stonehenge Free Festival, and set
about 'decommissioning' the new Travellers' movement.
For the festival and the travellers had joined the ranks of
Thatcher's 'enemies within.' With the eviction of squats in the
late '70s and widespread unemployment, thousands of people bought old
buses and trucks and took to the roads each year. Many found a living
on the free festival circuit, whose central focus was the gathering
at Stonehenge, which had become an alternative state of 100,000
people by 1984.
Despite four months' planning, the police operation was a shambles.
Plans to stop the convoy at a roadblock near the A303, blocking it at
the front and back, collapsed when an outrider
spotted the roadblock and directed the convoy down a side road, where
they met a second roadblock. After a first wave of violent assaults
by the police, in which windscreens were smashed and the occupants
dragged out screaming, most of the vehicles broke into a
neighbouring field, derailing the police plan still further.
For the next four hours, there was an uneasy stand-off, while Lionel
Grundy, the officer in charge, insisted that everyone was to be
arrested under the pretext of finding out who had committed a number
of alleged crimes earlier in the day (the theft of some petrol and a
bit of shoplifting). 'That's crazy,' said one of the travellers. 'If
you had a couple of football hooligans in a football stadium, you
wouldn't arrest everybody in the stadium
just to get at the hooligans.'
But Grundy wasn't listening. The final assault began at 7 pm, when
the police arrested men, women and children with indiscriminate
violence, pursuing the stragglers as they fled into a neighbouring
Beanfield. Nick Davies of The Observer saw what happened when the
police surrounded the last vehicle: 'They were like flies around
rotten meat... there was no question of trying to make a lawful
arrest... They just crawled all over that vehicle, with truncheons
flailing, hitting anybody that they could reach. It was extremely
violent and very sickening.'
By the end of the day, 537 people had been arrested - 420 at the
Beanfield, and most of the rest at Stonehenge itself, where a
separate gathering was also broken up. All were dispersed to holding
cells throughout southern England, dozens of women were strip-
searched, and social services took children into care. At the
Beanfield, the remaining vehicles were systematically looted and
All those arrested were charged with obstruction of the police and
the highway, but most of the charges were dismissed in the courts.
The travellers' unexpected saviour was the Earl of Cardigan, whose
family owned the forest where the convoy had stayed the night before.
On the day, Cardigan had tagged along out of interest, and his
descriptions of a heavily pregnant woman being clubbed, and of riot
police showering a woman and child with glass, prevented what would
otherwise have been a severe miscarriage of justice.
20 years on, what happened at the Beanfield remains relevant in a
number of ways. Without the events of that day, the steady erosion of
civil liberties over the last two decades would not have been so
easily achieved. Gypsies and travellers have been targeted in
particular, but you can see the chain of events that leads from the
Beanfield to the 1986 Public Order Act, the 1994 Criminal Justice Act
and the legislation dreamt up by the current government, that the
repercussions of that dark day for British
justice - on our right to gather, to party, to protest, to dissent -
are still being felt.
For the full story, see the new book 'The Battle of the Beanfield',
edited by Andy Worthington www.andyworthington.co.uk
Please also see Tash's splendid posting on all this at:
The Travellers Situation:
Anniversary of the 'Battle of the Beanfield': 'Operation Solstice'
SchNews - Tash
SchNews is 500 today. Happy Birthday guys. jolly well done. Solid
work you've done there!!