Tuesday June 1 is the 25th anniversary of a brutal and pivotal event that signalled the start of a serious assault on civil liberties in the UK, leading to the passage of two horrendous pieces of legislation — the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 — and paving the way for the excesses of the authoritarian regime presided over by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
That event on June 1, 1985 — a notoriously violent, one-sided confrontation between 450 unarmed travellers and a quasi-military police force of over 1,300 police and MoD personnel — is known as the Battle of the Beanfield. Further information can be found in The Battle of the Beanfield, the book I compiled and edited in 2005 for the 20th anniversary, and in the documentary “Operation Solstice,” directed by Gareth Morris and Neil Goodwin for Channel 4 in 1991. In addition, some indication of the significance of the Beanfield can hopefully be gleaned from this article I wrote for the Guardian last year — and the accompanying article here.
As I explained at the time:
[At the Battle of the Beanfield] a convoy of new age travellers, peace activists, anti-nuclear campaigners and free festival goers were ambushed en route to Stonehenge, to set up the 12th annual Stonehenge free festival, and subjected to a brutal display of State aggression.
On that dreadful day for civil liberties in the UK, when Margaret Thatcher, having crushed the miners, turned her attention to a new “enemy within,” the one-sided Battle of the Beanfield was followed up by legislation (the 1986 Public Order Act) that legitimized the government’s attempts to crush the way of life of travellers and Gypsies, curtailed the British public’s traditional right to gather freely without prior permission, and paved the way for a further assault on civil liberties (in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act), which was precipitated by the last large free festival in the UK, at Castlemorton, in May 1992.
And as I added in the Guardian:
[T]he 1994 Criminal Justice Act not only repealed the 1968 Caravans Sites Act, criminalising the entire way of life of gypsies and travellers by removing the obligation on local authorities to provide sites for gypsies, but also amended the Public Order Act by introducing the concept of “trespassory assembly.” This enabled the police to ban groups of 20 or more people meeting in a particular area if they feared “serious disruption to the life of the community,” even if the meeting was non-obstructive and non-violent, and the act also introduced “aggravated trespass,” which finally transformed trespass from a civil to a criminal concern.
Both had disturbing ramifications for almost all kinds of protests and alternative gatherings, and were clearly ramped up after the government failed to secure convictions after the Battle of the Beanfield using an ancient charge of “unlawful assembly.” Moreover, as protestors have been discovering in the years since the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, the groundwork laid by the Public Order Act and the Criminal Justice Act provided the Labour government, which has passed more legislation directed at civil liberties than any previous government, to start from a presumption that there were few, if any instances when a peaceful protest by just two people could not be suppressed.
To mark the anniversary, three screenings of “Operation Solstice” are taking place on Tuesday, in Bradford, Brighton and London, and a new play, based on the dreadful events of that day, starts a three-week run in Exeter. There have also been rumours that there will be some sort of Beanfield reunion at the actual site, beside the A303 in Wiltshire, and for further information on this please see this Facebook page.
The details of the film screenings and the play are as follows:
London, Tuesday June 1, 7 pm: Screening of “Operation Solstice” at The Broca, 4 Coulgate Street, Brockley, London, SE4 1XY.
Introduced by Andy Worthington, plus a post-screening Q&A session. Also see here for Andy’s other current events, involving screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” directed by Polly Nash and Andy. For The Broca, see the website here.
Bradford, Tuesday June 1, 7.30 pm: Screening of “Operation Solstice” at the 1in12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY.
From the publicity: “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. We’ll be remembering these events at the 1in12 Club with a showing of “Operation Solstice” and considering the links between the attacks on the counterculture in 1985 and organised labour in 1984 (miners) and 1986 (printworkers) and how that set the pre-conditions for the acquiesce-or-else debt-based consumerist experiment which has now culminated in the return to power of the architects of some of the 1980s most shameful episodes.”
Brighton, Tuesday June 1, 8 pm: Screening of “Operation Solstice” at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4JA.
Organized by SCHMovies (part of the excellent SCHNews collective). See the Cowley Club Facebook page here.
Exeter, Tuesday June 1 to Saturday June 19: “Beanfield,” a new play by Shaun McCarthy at The Bike Shed Theatre, St Olaves Close, Mary Archers Street, Exeter, EX4 3AT.
Produced by the Particular Theatre Company, “Beanfield” is described as follows: “Produced to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, this beautiful play looks at the human cost of the tragedy, both at the time and for us now. Seen through the lens of a love story between Steamer, a veteran of the convoy, and Annie, the well-to-do daughter of a newspaper editor, and taking in an array of characters from policemen to English Heritage committee members, ‘Beanfield’ tells an epic story with a lightness of touch.”
Following the opening run in Exeter, “Beanfield” will be performed at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol, from August 24 to September 4.
See here for the Particular Theatre Company website, and here for the Bike Shed Theatre.
For further information on the Beanfield and civil liberties in the UK, see my book Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, and two other articles here and here (and also see here for information about a book of photos from the 1994 Solsbury Hill road protest). I’ll also be posting an excerpt from the Beanfield book on the actual anniversary.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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