Battle of the Beanfield

Battle of the Beanfield

The Battle of the Beanfield took place over several hours on the afternoon of Saturday June 1, 1985 when Wiltshire Police prevented a vehicle convoy of several hundred new age travellers, known as the Peace Convoy, from setting up the fourteenth Stonehenge free festival at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England after English Heritage, the owners of the site, persuaded the judiciary to grant an exclusion zone of some miles around the stones. The incident became notorious for accusations of a police riot that were reported to have taken place. Ed. Andy Worthington, 2005, "The Battle of the Beanfield", Enabler Publications, ISBN 0952331667 ]

Those in the convoy insist that, after a stand-off of several hours, police attacked their procession of vehicles by entering the field where they were being contained, methodically smashing windows, beating people on the head with truncheons, and using sledgehammers to damage the interiors of their coaches. The bean field was the next field down from where the vehicles were and when a large number of police entered the first field many of the convoy vehicles tried to escape by going through the beanfield, where they were pursued and arrested by police. The Police stated that they responded after they had earlier come under attack, being pelted with lumps of wood, stones and petrol bombs. The full account of the events remain in hot dispute. [ Hippies clash with police at Stonehenge] (1985), "BBC News archive" Accessed 22 January 2008.]

The events

After gathering for the previous night in Savernake Forest, the convoy set off on the morning of June 1. There were between 80 and 120 vehicles, most of them buses and vans that had been converted into living spaces by their owners – new age travellers. In total there were several hundred people in the convoy, including a number of families.

A legal exclusion zone had been declared four miles (6.4 km) around Stonehenge and the convoy hoped to breach this and spend the solstice in sight of the henge. The police set up a roadblock about seven miles (11 km) from Stonehenge, by tipping three lorry loads of gravel across the road. When the convoy halted at this blockage, the police allegedly moved down the lead vehicles, smashing windscreens and arresting the occupants.Fact|date=June 2008 As a result, the majority of the convoy attempted to flee by driving through a hedgerow into a nearby grass field. Some convoy vehicles rammed police vans.

The convoy found themselves trapped in the field, and unable to continue their journey towards Stonehenge, and the police refused to allow them to return to Savernake with their vehicles. There were attempts by convoy members to negotiate with the police, over several hours. Wiltshire Chief Constable Donald Smith ordered the arrest of all the members of the convoy, stating that he was convinced that the convoy was intent on breaking the exclusion zone that had been imposed around Stonehenge by English Heritage.

There were outbreaks of violence in which several members of the convoy received head injuries. An ambulance was allowed through to take them to hospital. [,11913,1151750,00.html What happened next? | From the Observer | The Observer ] ]

A police helicopter began to fly low over the site. Members of the convoy used small hand mirrors to reflect the sun into the eyes of the pilot as it was a hot, sunny day, causing the helicopter to withdraw. Fact|date=February 2007

After further "light attacks" by the convoy,.Fact|date=June 2008 the police, many in riot gear, entered the field on foot. This gave the convoy a couple of minutes' notice that an attack was imminent, and many tried to escape in their vehicles, crossing over into the adjacent beanfield, but travelling over rough field terrain their vehicles were so slow that they were all quickly overtaken by policemen on foot. As a result, almost all of the members of the convoy were arrested.

Convoy member Phil Shakesby later gave his account of the day:

cquote|The police came in " [to the grass field] " and they were battering people where they stood, smashing homes up where they were, just going wild. Maybe about two-thirds of the vehicles actually started moving and took off, and they chased us into a field of beans.

By this time there were police everywhere, charging along the side of us, and wherever you went there was a strong police presence. Well, they came in with all kinds of things: fire extinguishers and one thing and another. When they'd done throwing the fire extinguishers at us, they were stoning us with these lumps of flint and such.

There were many similar reports from the travellers, which were denied by the police. Most independent eyewitness accounts did however relate that the police had used violent tactics against men, women and children, including pregnant women, and purposefully damaged the vehicles used by the convoy. [ The Battle of the Beanfield] , "Edited by Andy Worthington" Accessed 22 January 2008.]

Official figures said eight police officers and sixteen travellers were taken to hospital with minor injuries. One traveller suffered from a fractured skull. Local MP Robert Key, who had witnessed the events, said the lack of injuries showed that no excessive violence was used. Fact|date=March 2007

The miners' strike ended earlier in the same year, and comparison was made with the tactics were used by the police during the strikes. The news section of the "Police Review" of June 8 1985 reported "The Police operation had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners' strike were implemented."

There were insufficient holding cells in local jails to hold all those arrested; convoy members were transported throughout the Midlands and even to northern England. The convoy vehicles were all towed to a single site where they could be claimed after their owners were released from custody.

Those who had attended the Stonehenge festivals to celebrate the summer solstice were not only not deterred by this incident; if anything, the number of pagan pilgrims grew in numbers in the years following. A pilgrimage along the Ridgeway linking several ancient sites including Avebury took place the following year.

Media coverage

Media coverage and the resulting record of the events was limited because only a small number of journalists defied the directive to stay behind police lines, at the bottom of the hill.Fact|date=June 2008 Wiltshire Police stated that this was to ensure the safety of the journalists.Fact|date=June 2008

Photographic evidence of the actual police action is extremely scant. Freelance photographer Ben Gibson, engaged by "The Observer" that day, was arrested on charges of obstruction. Although he was later acquitted, the arrest removed him from the scene. "The Observer" later lost the negatives during an office move. [ The Battle of the Beanfield] , "In A Criminal Culture? by Jim Carey", Accessed 22 January 2008.]

Another freelance photographer, Tim Maylon, was chased from the field by police.

ITN reporter Kim Sabido, recorded an emotional piece-to-camera:

When broadcast that evening, the voice-over was removed, as was footage of the more contentious police acts. According to Sabido:

Since that time some of the missing footage has been rediscovered, and was incorporated into the "Operation Solstice" documentary shown on Channel Four in 1991.

Nick Davies reported for "The Observer":

Legal action

Nearly six years later, twenty four of the travellers sued Wiltshire Police as a result of the damage to themselves and their property.

In the main, they were only able to take action against the police force - it proved difficult to pursue charges against individual police officers as none of the riot police involved had been wearing identifying numbers. Despite this, one police sergeant was convicted of causing actual bodily harm to a member of the convoy.

The police radio had been recorded, and was used in evidence against Wiltshire Police. It was to prove inconclusive as there were gaps in the recording at vital points.

The travellers had left from Savernake Forest, land managed by the young Earl of Cardigan on behalf of his father. Lord Cardigan decided to follow the convoy on motorbike, together with his friend John Moore.

Lord Cardigan witnessed the events, and later testified in court against Wiltshire Police, saying that he had seen a heavily pregnant woman being "clubbed with a truncheon." He was criticised as an unreliable witness by several national newspapers. On Monday June 3 1985, the editorial in "The Times" even went as far as to state that being "barking mad was probably hereditary." Lord Cardigan started legal action against "The Times", "The Telegraph", the "Daily Mail", the "Daily Express" and the "Daily Mirror" for their attacks on him, and received written apologies and damages from each.

Lord Cardigan also described how he was approached by the police at the following day, who wanted permission to remove travellers who were still at Savernake:

After four months of hearings, twenty one of the travellers were successful in their case, but the judge refused to award their legal costs, which took away the vast majority of the £24,000 winnings.

Their barrister, Lord Gifford QC, stated "It left a very sour taste in the mouth."

Popular culture

*British band The Levellers wrote a song about the Battle. "The Battle of the Beanfield" is found upon their 1991 album, "Levelling the Land".
*British artist Roy Harper also wrote a song about the events of the day. "Back to the Stones" is found upon his 1993 album, "Unhinged".


External links

* [ BBC News video report]
* [ Battle of the Beanfield - Ten years on]
* [ BBC News 'On This Day - June 1']
* [ Lyrics to 'Battle of the Beanfield' by The Levellers]
* [ YouTube - Battle of the Beanfield at Stonehenge 1985]

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