Battle of the Beanfield book review and what it means to me
THE BATTLE OF THE BEANFIELD - edited by Andy Worthington
"On June 1st 1985, a convoy of new travellers, peace protestors, green activists and festival goers set off from Savernake forest in Wiltshire to establish the 12th annual free festival at Stonehenge.
They never reached their destination.
Eight miles from the stones they were ambushed, assaulted and arrested with unprecedented brutality by a quasi-military police force of over 1300 offiers drawn from six counties and the MOD.
That event has gone down in history as the Battle of the Beanfield. This book is the combined effort of a large number of people who feel passionately that only through reaching an understanding of what actually occured before, during and after the Battle of the Beanfield can a proper 'closure' take place for those involved and the many people who have been in some way touched by it. The 14 chapters feature extracts from the police log and in-depth interviews with a range of people who were there on the day - including travellers, journalists Nick Davies and Kim Sabido, the Earl of Cardigan and the Deputy Chief Constable Ian Readhead - as well as Lord Gifford QC, who represented 24 of the travellers at the Beanfield trial in 1991. These accounts cut through the myths, misconceptions and propaganda that have built up around 'The Battle of the Beanfield' to present a detailed picture of what actually did happen.
Also included are many previously unseen photos, a description of the making of the documentary 'Operation Solstice' and chapters which set the events of the Beanfield in context. These look at the evolution and the free festival scene, new travellers, convoys and the wider implications of the events of the Beanfield, through increasingly draconian legislation, on civil liberties in the UK."
I originally wrote this in 2005:
What can I say about a subject I knew nothing about until last week? I had heard the term 'Battle of the Beanfield' and the Levellers had sung about it but nothing prepared me for what I read. I cannot begin to explain the emotions I experienced reading the first two chapters alone! I soon realised that I would end up quoting so many people and their testomonies surrounding the battles. I started to put index markers next to quotes and soon found the book covered in them! I cannot do this book justice by a review. I can only highlight several areas that really got to me.
It felt like I was reading accounts of the Nazi occupation, the total disregard to the travellers property, the lack of respect full stop. Several of the eyewitness accounts had me in tears and mostly a stunned disbelief that all this had gone on and it had been covered up in the press. I was only 9 when it happend - yet I have no recollection of seeing it on the news. It has occurred to me reading these accounts, that so much has been hiden from me by the media and government. So much as passed me by and that makes me feel a tad guilty.
Chapter 6 - Interview with Kim Sabido. Seasoned journalist from ITN.
"It was almost like a scene from Zulu, where you had the whole line of policemen banging their shields, moving slowly, progressively up the fileld, smashing any vehicle or anybody in their way. And one of the scenes that sticks out in my mind was when they had smashed all the windows of a van and they were pulling everybody out of it forcibly - by their hair, most of the time - and one woman had a baby in her arms, and they grabbed hold of the woman by her hair and started to to grab the woman out backwards from the van. And we were filming this and at one stage a senior police officer shouted 'The cameras!' and they stopped for a second and looked, and then someone with a shield pushed the camera and covered the camera with a shield, so that you couldn't see any more of what was happening, and that happened on several occasions"
Quoted from the Earl of Cardigan.
"I shall never forget the screams of one woman who was holding up her little baby in a bus with smashed windows. She screamed and screamed at them to stop, but five seconds later 50 men with truncheons and shields just boiled into that bus. It was mayhem, no other word for it."
Whilst discussing the Operation Solstice video shown in court (chapter 12), Neil Goodwin writes:
"The ITN footage only showed brief snippets of the chase, but it did capture what happened when the Rasta bus was finally taken. At this stage, the police turned into a frenzied mob, and rushed towards the crippled vehicle. We can see the police jostling the ITN camera crew out of the way, followed by a few seconds of erratic camera movements. Somewhere a young voice pleads/screams, "someone help me! someone help me!" and we suddenly see the sickening sight of a boy, prehaps 15 years of age, being frogmarched past, his terrified face covered in blood. The shot lasts for a fraction of a second, after which the camerawork becomes erratic again, and we hear more screams.
Moments later, we see a clearly shaken Kim Sabido, ITN's reporter on the day, delivering his piece to the camera. Standing in the middle of the field with several officers walking past, some quite cheerful, he states 'What we, the ITN camera crew and myself as a reporter, have seen in the last few minutes on this field, has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I have witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. There must be an inquiry. I don't know what the results of it will be. But at this stage, 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, has yet to be counted. But there must surely be an inquiry after what has happened here today." This is the same guy who reported from riots in Northern Ireland and the Miners Strikes, so he had seen a fair bit of violence and authority put down.
Don't know about you, but that chilled me to the bone. This book comprises of such statements from the public and the 500 odd travellers arrested, homes smashed up, possessions trached and beaten, then thrown into mediocre police cells with no means of warmth or food or privacy. Not to mention the underhand tactics deployed to have kids put into care by altering signed papers of the parents, the abuse and murder of their dogs and animals. The accounts of the 1400 strong MOD and civilian policemen is shocking and the worst of it all is the total ignorance and direbolical intelligence which caused this.
This book details the before, the during and after of the events surrounding the Battle of the Beanfield. It leads from the birth of the free festival, it's founders and travellers lifestyles oppressed by the authourities - onto how the Criminal Justice Act came into being, the rave culture and the birth of the Eco-warrior road protestors of the early 1990's. It is around this section, we are introduced to the Newbury bypass, Reclaim the Streets and the quest by Arthur to gain free access to Stonehenge. This is the point where I first discovered about the fight for Stonehenge, in CJ's book on Arthur. It all falls into place now.
What knowledge have I gained from this book? For a start, I now understand the nature of the 'spirit' of the festivals held at Stonehenge. I now understand why so many were there when I went. I had not realised at the time, the struggle and fight to gain access to our national monument, our temple of the sun. I didn't have a view on travellers before, they are just people but live differently in my view, granted you get a few that give all a bad name, but isn't that true for most things?
I think that these festivals were corrupted by those trying to infiltrate the scene with drugs and disregard to the land around them. The original festival founders were powerless to intervene.. it got out of control and the police blamed an entire community for the few that caused the problems. They were persecuted beyond words for living a life the governement couldn't fathom. Thatcher is of course revealed to be a total tyrant as was her whipping boy Grundy (ooh what a xxxx he was!).
Final quote of the book:
'So while what happened 20 years ago to a few hundred people in a field in Wiltshire may seem like ancient history, I suggest that it remains relevant in a number of ways, beyond the revulsion that is the only civilised response to the exercise of such brutal force on unarmed members of the public by officers of the law. It's true that those in charge have moved on - Thatcher, Hurd, Heseltine, Grundy and all those in reponsible positions in the other organisations involved, including English Heritage and the National Trust - but the legacy they left has not. Without the events of the Beanfield - and in particular the distasteful influence wielded by the politicians and the media to ensure that a day of terrifying violence inflicted on an unarmed minority of society can be spun to suggest tht the very opposite is true - the steady erosion of civil liberties that has taken place over the last 20 years would not have been so easily acheived.'
I remember the Criminal Justice Act protest marches - I was amongst them. I also still have a flyer with 'Kill the Bill on it' with the old cast of the tv show The Bill on my fridge and one of the most vivid memories I have from that time is the local bobby (who was a right facist) with his bike, standing next to a green telephone exchange box looking at the graffiti 'Kill the Bill'. It was summer, my windows were down and I nearly crashed the car from laughing. I still wish I had my camera with me that day - I could of made a fortune from that picture. Lessons to be learnt from this? Make sure our kids know what their grandparents voted in and make sure it does not happen again.
One question though? If the trial was held this year, how would it stand with the Human Rights Act or would the Blair Terrorism prevention act counter act the travellers rights?
Since writing this article, I have met someone who was at the battle of the beanfield. I was saying about the 15 year old boy who had been beaten and who had screamed 'help me help me' and he said that boy was his friend and was in fact NINE years old.... if that doesn't bring a tear to your eye...
Since being in touch with the protest scene and meeting so many people who were actively protesting, they nearly all say the same about the battle of the beanfield - brutal tyranny. Their eyes glaze over and a dark shadow often flits across their face.
What exactly did these people do wrong other than chose an alternative way of living? The didn't fit into the ideals of our so-called civilised society!
I was a child when this happened. I cannot recall seeing it on the news. Such things need to be remembered and never repeated. Nevermind fight the system - educate it!
Find it, buy it, read it, weep and learn from it. ISBN 0-9523316-6-7