SchNews 500

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 smashed.

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


Please also see earlier posting on all this at:

The Travellers Situation:


Anniversary of the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’: ‘Operation Solstice’


SchNews is 500 today. Happy Birthday guys. jolly well done. Solid work you’ve done there!!