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Free Festivals, Hippy Convoys and Peace Camps

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Red Don's picture
Red Don
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I remember seeing images of huge convoy's converging on Stonehenge around the Solstice and Hippy/New Age Traveller camps being set up for huge free and mostly by the authorities unwanted festivals.  I dare say this was back in the 1970's and 1980's, but what happened to this movement.  I assume a lot of them were pagans and anarchists but I don't much about it.  I recently came across a book entitled The Battle of the Beanfield which describes the brutish treatment of a Peace Convoy enroute to Glastonbury and this following article from the The Observer, 2005 sort of reviews it.

Twenty years after, mystery still clouds Battle of the Beanfield

* Tony Thompson, crime correspondent
* The Observer, Sunday 12 June 2005

It looked just like a carnival - at first. The weather was sunny and music played as the 140 vehicles set off towards Stonehenge. The 600 or so Travellers were on their way to attend the annual free festival on squatted land beside the ancient stones.

A few hours later the convoy had been ambushed by more than 1,300 police officers; dozens of Travellers were injured, all but a handful were arrested, and every one of their vehicles was destroyed.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield. Despite four months' planning, the police operation to stop the convoy was a shambles. Faulty police intelligence suggested the Travellers were armed with chainsaws, hammers, petrol bombs and even firearms. All this information was false.

Plans to stop the convoy near the A303 collapsed when a convoy outrider spotted the roadblock and directed the travellers down a side road, where they encountered 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 further.

For the next four hours there was a standoff, while Assistant Chief Constable Lionel Grundy, the officer in charge, insisted all Travellers had to be arrested.

The final assault began at 7pm, by which time all the officers had changed into riot gear. Pregnant women were clubbed with truncheons, as were those holding babies. The journalist Nick Davies, then working for The Observer, saw the violence. 'They were like flies around rotten meat,' he wrote, 'and there was no question of trying to make a lawful arrest. They crawled all over, truncheons flailing, hitting anybody they could reach. It was extremely violent and very sickening.'

When some of those remaining tried to get away, driving their vehicles through the beanfield, the police threw anything they could lay their hands on - fire extinguishers, stones, shields and truncheons - at them in order to bring them to a halt. The empty vehicles were then systematically smashed to pieces and several were set on fire. Seven healthy dogs belonging to the Travellers were put down by officers from the RSPCA. In total, 537 people were arrested - the most arrests to take place on any single day since the Second World War.

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. Cardigan had tagged along out of interest, and his descriptions of the violence prevented what might otherwise have become a major miscarriage of justice.

Cardigan recalled that in many cases 'the smashing up of the vehicles and the instructions to 'Get Out! Get Out! Get Out!' and hand over your keys were given simultaneously and therefore there was no chance to understand what was being shouted at you, and to comply before your vehicle started disintegrating around you with your windscreen broken in and your side panels beaten by truncheons and so on.'

It remains a mystery why the police felt compelled to use such violence. With evidence that radio logs of conversations between officers on the day have been altered, the full story may never be known.

'The Battle of the Beanfield remains a black day for British justice and civil liberties,' says Andy Worthington, whose book on the event is published this week. 'From the anti-Traveller legislation of the 1986 Public Order Act and the 1994 Criminal Justice Act to the current hysteria surrounding Gypsy and traveller settlements, the repercussions are still being felt.'

· The Battle of the Beanfield, edited by Andy Worthington, is published by Enabler Publications on Wednesday, £12.95.

Neil Boothman's picture
Neil Boothman
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Re: Free Festivals, Hippy Convoys and Peace Camps

And they wonder why people throw fire extinguishers at them?

An example of the ideological and militarised policing adopted by Margaret Thatcher's government in an attempt to destroy the opposition that existed in grass roots movements like this. The same thing occured with the opression of the women of Greenham Common and the trade union movement.

Grass roots dissent, organised workers, a strong civil society, environmental protection and long haired weirdos had no place in a society which was to dominated by corporate interests.

The free festival and travellers' movement still exists in pockets, though the Battle of the Beanfield demoralised the traveller community as a whole and the fascist anti-traveller legislation that followed has effectively criminalised the whole traveller/free festival scene.

Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Joined: 23 Jul 2008
Re: Free Festivals, Hippy Convoys and Peace Camps

Great post Red.  I actually managed to acquire a signed copy of Andy Worthington's first book 'Stonehenge Celebration and Subversion' which details the traveller and Free Festival movement and the political situation around gaining access to Stonehenge.  Many were pagans and they wanted the right to access the site freely for the purpose of worship.  This site has covered how the witches, pagans and heretics were suppressed in centuries past and maybe we should take a closer look at issues surrounding the pagan community in this century as well.



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