20 arrests at Newbury camps

The Guardian March 6 1996

John Vidal

MORE than 20 people were arrested yesterday as two protest camps on the route of the proposed Newbury bypass in Berkshire were cleared by bailiffs with several hundred police and security guards in attendance.

Bailiffs isolated an 18-year-old woman atop an 80-foot-high silver birch and cut off her descent by removing the branches below her. The woman, who said her name was «Cake», clung for 2˝ hours to a 4-inch branch without a safety harness. «She put her own life in danger. She threw her harness down. If these people want to be safe they don't go up the trees, end of story,» said Nicholas Blandy, Under Sheriff of Berkshire, responsible for the bailiffs.

Granny Ash, RIP

12.15am: Full moon over Snelsmore. After two days destruction, locals and protesters have spent the weekend rebuilding the camp, constructing new houses and defenses. There are metal grills at the base of the trees and barricades, people have bought food and cheer. Roads have been built to provide level surfaces for the cherry picker machine. Arthur Pendragon has come in Druidical robes with his broadsword to be with Sir Galahad, whose tree was felled on Friday: «In times of trouble, say the legends, King Arthur will come to the land,» he says. «Oh yes?» says a protester.

1.15am: Phil and Warren are high in the tree. Sleeping arrangements cramped. Accordion and flute can be heard in the distance. So can the M4.

4.15am: «Morning everyone.» A Newbury policeman is doing the rounds. «Everything all right?» Voice at the camp fire: «It's fine.»

6am: The Third Battle of Newbury office reports security guards on their way and police waiting at lay-bys. Which camp are they heading for? «It looks like yours.»

6.45am: «Jesus, God Almighty. It's awful.» Toilet arrangements.

6.55am: Third Battle say go the Granny Ash camp.

7am: Absail down 60-foot oak. The tree is festooned with Blake's Jerusalem. Another tree has this: «This good and pleasant land that our forefathers fought and died for is worth more than a few minutes in a car.»

7.30am: Two hundred police and 300 security guards surround two large trees at Granny Ash camp. There are 10 people, at most, in the branches.

8.15am: Jim, a protester, recognises Simon, a policeman, from schooldays. «Don't do this to your own people.» Simon feigns not to recognise him, then smiles sheepishly. Jim: «I can't believe this. You grew up here.»

9am: Skirmishes. Drum. Fifty people repeatedly sit down in front of the cherry-pickers. After an hour, they reach the trees.

9.30am: The Granny Ash tree has two houses. The bailiffs attack the higher one first. Balin, who spent weeks up a tripod in blizzard conditions, is attacked by a man using a riot shield. He tries to defend himself, then drops down onto the lower house and climbs higher on a branch without any protection.

9.45am: The onlookers are horrified. The police say they do not see the incident with the riot shields. Policeman: «The bailiffs are responsible for this eviction.»

9.50am: Balin is now in the fork of a tree. Protester: «Is this reasonable force?» Policeman: «He's only got to get out of the tree and there is no danger.» Newbury resident: «I've never seen anything like this.» Balin could not be more local. Policeman: «I'm not here to get into a philosophical discussion.»

10.15am: Balin is now hanging on to the branch as the cherry-pickers reach him. Lady Barber (local resident): «Leave him alone. The police are watching us. Look how dangerous we are.»

11am: Lee Tree, veteran of Batheaston, the M11, and Pollack protests, has moved into the highest branches of a next-door oak. Bailiffs follow him, cutting branches below him. Finally, he's dragged into the cherry-picker, where he is bent over the rail and the bailiffs proceed to hit his feet and kick him.

11.15am: «My view is that arresting people 74 foot up, turning them upside down, is so reckless as to be quite liable to amount to a criminal offense.» -- senior Friends of the Earth-appointed observer, Yorkshire solicitor Alan Bridger.

11.30am: Guardian straw poll: Q: Did you see Balin being hit by the edge of a shield? A: Yes (5 press, 2 legal observers, 5 protesters -- out of 12 people asked); No (15 policemen -- out of 15 asked).

12.15pm: Arthur Pendragon arrested for possession of «offensive weapon».

12.30pm: The Granny Ash is bulldozed over. Men and women cry.

John Vidal