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.
Further trouble and the Public Order Act 1986
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.
In May and June of 1986, the tribes again tried to gather. More of the same was in store. Huge numbers of police pushed various convoys all over the south of England. Much stress!!
On the 1st June, we arrived at Stoney Cross in the New Forest, Hampshire. The whole issue was on newspaper front pages for a week! Politicians again whipped up the moral outrage.
On the 3rd June the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, described the convoy in a speech to the House of Commons as:
“Hon. Members from the west country will be aware of the immense policing difficulties created by the peace convoy, it is anything but peaceful. Indeed, it resembles nothing more than a band of medieval brigands who have no respect for the law or the rights of others”.
The National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) observed that this assertion was made without any evidence being presented that the convoy contained a higher proportion of people with criminal records, or evidence the travellers were committing offences on the road.
Two days later on the 5th, Margaret Thatcher said that her government was:
” …. Only too delighted to do anything we can to make life difficult for such things as `hippy convoys”.
Shortly after the `green light’, Hampshire police mounted “Operation Daybreak” on the 9th June. 550 police charged onto the field in support of bailiffs and an eviction order. Many arrests then ensued, the convoy put up no resistance. Policemen carried a large amount of documentation on people and their vehicles, most of which were again impounded.
It was against this background that the now famous `anti-hippy’ clauses where put into the Public Order Act, these powers began to operate in 1987. Section 39 of the Public Order Act makes it a new criminal offence for a trespasser on land not to leave it after being ordered to by police.
After the previous year’s events, this section is seen as yet another example of how the police are being drawn into enforcing the Civil Law and deciding issues which, until then, had been the province of the civil courts. The first time for hundreds of years that trespass had become a criminal offence. It was a most controversial measure, it had been inserted into the Act hurriedly.
Under the powers, the most senior police officer present may direct people to leave land if it is reasonably believed that: two or more people are trespassers intending to remain on land for any period of time and have been asked to leave, damage has been caused to the land or threatening behaviour used against the occupier, or 12 or more vehicles have been brought onto the land.
The Home Office had stated:
“That the clause was a response to the `problems’ of new age travellers
and that the power is not aimed primarily at Gypsy groups”.
However, according to the National Gypsy Council, by 9.27am on the day the act came into force (1st April 1987), section 39 was being applied against Gypsies by Avon and Somerset police.
The increasingly hostile political climate that followed, had a dramatic affect on the travelling community, frightening away many of the families integral to the community balance of the festival circuit.
In 1987, people stood on the tarmac beside Stonehenge having walked the eight mile distance from an impromptu site at Cholderton. As clouds smothered the Solstice sunrise, those who had walked the distance were kept on the road, separated from the Stones by rows of riot police and bales of razor wire. The anger mounted and scuffles broke out. The following year the anger was tangibly increased and once again at Solstice dawn there were some who found the situation too unacceptable. This time the scuffles were more prevalent with concerted attempts being made to break through the police cordon. Secreted around the area, however, were thousands of waiting riot police and, as the anger of the penned in crowd grew, numberless uniforms came flooding down the hill to disperse the crowd with a liberal usage of truncheons and riot shields.
Andy Smith – now editor of Festival Eye – finally received a £10,000 out of court settlement from Wiltshire Police this year for a truncheon wound to the head received after he tripped and fell at Stonehenge in 1988. In the years following the event, he was diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. “I’d had recurrent dreams about the episode and after eight years of raking over it, I needed to put the event behind me”.
The numbers of people prepared to travel to Stonehenge and face this treatment naturally dwindled, resulting in a concentration of those who were prepared for confrontation in defence of what was considered as a right to celebrate solstice at Stonehenge. Successive huge police operations backed by the Public Order Act 1986, have become stricter and stricter in attempts to stop anyone from reaching the Stone circle at Solstice. There are still a few however, who hug hedgerows and dart between the beams of police helicopters in order to be in view of the Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge.
Attacks on our `alternative economy’
Up until 1985, the free festival circuit had provided the economic backbone of all year round itinerancy. Traditionally the three cardinal points in the festival circuit were the May bank holiday, the Solstice and the August bank holiday. Without the need for advertising, festival goers knew to look out for these dates knowing a festival would be taking place somewhere. The employment of two bank holidays as specific festival times was designed to allow workers the opportunity of attending a festival without the inevitable bleary Monday back at work. The number of festivals in-between these cardinal points also blossomed, giving rise to the possibility of travelling from one to the other (with choice) over the entire long summer. By selling crafts, services, performance busking, tat and assorted gear, Travellers provided themselves with an alternative economy lending financial viability to an itinerant culture.
Evidence suggests that the political campaign to eradicate festivals was aimed at breaking this economy.
Indeed, a working party set up by the Department of Health and Social Security published a report on Itinerant Claimants in March 1986 stating:
“Local offices of the DHSS have experienced increasing problems in dealing with claims from large groups of nomadic claimants over the past two or three years. Matters came to a head during the summer of 1985 when several large groups converged on Stonehenge for a festival that had been banned by the authorities. The resulting well publicised confrontation with the police was said to have disrupted the normal festival economy and large numbers of claims to Supplementary Benefit were made.”
It is obvious that as soon as they scared away the punters it destroyed the means of exchange. Norman Tebbit went on about getting on your bike and finding employment whilst at the same time being part of the political force that kicked the bike from under us.
In the years that followed, the right-wing press made much of dole-scrounging Travellers, with no acknowledgement that the engineered break-up of the festival economy was largely responsible.
Another ramification of this tactic was even more insidious and ugly.
At the entrance gate to the 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival a burnt out car bore testament to the levels of self-policing emerging from the social-experiment.
The sign protruding from the wreckage proclaimed: “This was a smack dealers car.”
Dispossessed of their once thriving economy and facing incessant and increasing harassment and eviction, the break down of community left Travellers prone to a destructive force potentially more devastating than anything directly forced by the authorities. “At one time smack wasn’t tolerated on the road at all,”
recalls mother of six, Decker Lynn. “Certainly on festival sites, if anybody was selling or even using it they were just put off site full stop.”
Heroin, the great escape to oblivion, found the younger elements of a fractured community prone to its clutches and its use spread like myxamatosis. Once again Traveller families were forced to vacate sites that became `dirty’, further imbalancing the battered communities and creating a split between `clean’ and `dirty’ sites. Lynn who still lives in her double-decker bus. “I don’t park on big sites anymore. Heroin is something that breaks up a community because people become so self-centred they don’t give a damn about their neighbours.”
“So many times people got away with it and there were very few busts for smack. They must know smack is the quickest way to divide a community; united we stand and divided we don’t.”
The other manifestation of community disruption was the emergence of the so called brew crew. These were mainly angry young Travellers feeding themselves on a diet of special brew and developing a penchant for nihilism, blagging and neighbourly disrespect. Whilst festival culture was healthy, the travelling community could cope, once broken up however, the community had problems dealing with the exodus.
Decker Lynn says.
“To start with it was contained. Every family had its problems but the brew crew was a very small element around 1986, and very much contained by the families that were around. But there was a large number of angry young people pouring out of the cities with brew and smack and the travelling community couldn’t cope with the numbers.”
The so called `brew crew’ caused constant disruption for the festivals still surviving on the decimated circuit and provided an obvious target for slander-hungry politicians and right-wing media, with the entire scene regularly painted with the inevitable all inclusive black brush.