1985: Battle of the beanfield

Photograph copyright Andy Worthington
Photograph copyright Andy Worthington

A short account of the brutal police attack on a convoy of travellers and others on their way to the annual the Stonehenge Free Festival.

Submitted by Steven. on February 26, 2009

"All of us were shocked by what we saw: police tactics which seemed to break new grounds in the scale and intensity of its violence. We saw police throw hammers, stones and other missiles through the windscreens of advancing vehicles; a women dragged away by her hair; young men beaten over the head with truncheons as they tried to surrender; police using sledgehammers to smash up the interiors of the hippies’ coaches." - Eyewitness

On Thursday 1 June, 1985, the so-called Peace Convoy made its way to the Stonehenge Free Festival as people had been doing since 1974.

It was late afternoon before along chain of 140 rumbling, wheezing buses, vans, ambulances and cars started to curl out of Savernake Forest towards Stonehenge, most unaware of the High Court Injunctions banning them from going near their planned destination. Near the Stones the road was blocked and the convoy diverted down a narrow country lane. This road was also blocked. Suddenly a group of police officers came forward and started to break vehicle windows with their truncheons. The Convoy trapped, swung their vehicles into a field, crashing through a hedge.

For the next four hours there was an ugly stalemate. The Convoy started trying to negotiate, offering to abandon the festival and return to Savernake Forest or leave Wiltshire altogether. The police refused to negotiate and told them they could all surrender or face the consequences.

At ten past seven the ‘battle’ began. In the next half hour, the police operation "became a chaotic whirl of violence."

"At one point, I saw a youth inside a bus, surrounded by policeman, trying to give himself up. He climbed out of a broken window and found himself falling on a sea of policeman who - only a few feet in front of me - were leaning over each other to get a blow. I saw the young mans glasses swiped from his face and his front teeth break under the raining blows."

"Above us, a police helicopter, circling overhead, barked down encouragement from a loud hailer: ‘You’re doing a great job. This is the way they like it."

"The occupants pleaded to be allowed to leave. The windows were smashed by the police and occupants were dragged out through a storm of truncheons; broken heads, broken teeth, broken spectacles. Officers started to climb through the broken windows, lashing out on all sides with their sticks. Reporters screamed at the police to calm down."

The Earl of Cardigan, secretary of the Marlborough Conservative Association, was one of the witness to the events: He saw a baby lifted out of its cot "It was covered in glass from head to foot."

Four hundred and twenty people were arrested - the largest mass arrest of civilians for hundreds of years - and taken to holding cells throughout the south of England. Travellers homes were systematically looted, smashed and burnt. Seven dogs were destroyed by the RSPCA.

One women who drove a young girl back to her bus said: ‘Everything inside the bus was broken: her guitar and her camera were smashed, the posters had been torn off the wall, there was food and clothes all piled up together in the middle of the floor. Even the yoghurts had been stabbed and spilled everything. The poor girl just couldn’t stop crying: "This is my home; they’ve smashed my home."

The convoy had been portrayed by the media as a marauding army of crazed hippies. After the ‘battle’ the BBC showed a row of ordinary household implements described as "weapons gathered up". On ITN, fleeing drivers became virtually potential murderers. Reporter Kim Sabidos commentary was replaced by a voice-over and some of the most horrific footage disappeared from the ITN library.

So why did the authorities react with such ferocity spending £5 million in the process? Since the seventies more and more people were taking to the road. One participant was quoted in Schnews: "The number of people who were living on buses had been doubling every year for four years. It was anarchy in action, and it was seen to be working by so many people that they wanted to be a part of it too.

" Those in authority are scared of us coming together- to sing, dance and be merry. They’d much rather us at home watching TV, shopping on a Saturday, roast on a Sunday; eyes closed, ears shut, whilst the whole shit collapses round our ears…

"But don’t listen to us – you have to see it, feel it. Get out there wide-eyed and experience life… it's there for the taking."

Speaking from her double decker at Stonehenge on the 10th Anniversary of the Beanfleld, veteran ‘Decker Lyn’ said: "All I remember is the noise and the breaking of vehicles. They trashed our vehicle but that didn’t stop us. We’ve carried on doing festivals ever since?"

Taken from Schnews and lightly edited for context by libcom