The Peace Convoy (2)
At Nostell Priory; Arrival of the Riot Police
(A further extract from Chapter 9)
The following morning, the day of our agreement to leave, the riot squads moved in.
It wasn't hard for them to organise. The miner's strike was right at its climax. Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire had a lot of heavy riot squad in the area, and that's where we were.
Rumour has it that the squad that was brought in that morning had been given a pasting by the miners the day before. Apparently they kept a tally of battles with the miners lost and won, and this particular lot had come off worst the day before. A little excursion into hippiedom was a welcome relief.
The riot squad marched onto that site. When they did so, most people there ran into a large marquee to have a meeting. In military formation, wearing their riot gear, the riot squad marched up and surrounded this marquee two or three deep.
And a police officer said through a loudhailer that all the women and children must come out. There was a quick meeting, lots of people screaming and shouting, and it was decided that the women and children should not come out.
The police ordered their front row to come into the marquee to arrest people, and I think at that point the women and children decided to go out, so they straggled out of the marquee, but when they did they were arrested and taken away.
Then all the men were arrested as well, everyone was arrested and taken off to Leeds. They left behind them about 120 homes, including benders, tents, caravans, buses, converted lorries.
The first I heard about all this was on the radio, and then messages started coming through. I felt that as many people as possible must go up there to offer help; and so a group of us took a car and we drove up to Nostell Priory.
We found a scene of utter desolation. The women and children had now been released and there were about forty women there and a large number of children. They were in a state of shock. Most of them had been back on the site for a few hours. One or two were getting their homes back together again, sorting them out, comforting each other.
I believe that the normal system in English law is that when the police arrest you, they are obliged to look after your property carefully. That hadn't happened in this case. Under the guise of searching for drugs, the police rampaged through those vehicles, smashing them up. They got into the vehicles and they wrecked the furniture and the fittings, pulled off the doors of cupboards, smashed mirrors, pulled down shelving and doors and curtains. They broke the crockery and strewed it around, turned bedding upside down, poured jam and honey over the bedding. They used cooking oil, soya sauce, whatever came to hand in the kitchen, to destroy the home. They found old cans of oil or diesel, and poured it over the carpets, pulled out the wires under the dashboards and took away components of the engines, usually small components, so that it was impossible for that vehicle to move without replacing them. For a lot of these older vehicles, small components can be hard to find.
Television sets were smashed, and other television sets and tape recorders went missing. People's money, a lot of money, went missing. We have very little thievery on the sites. So basically its not unusual for someone to have money lying around somewhere in their home. Meanwhile the bender tents had had their sticks pulled out. Some of them were set on fire. And the police went thoroughly through all of those homes and they made an almighty mess.
A few people had come to offer help from outside the hippy world, including some legal support groups from Leeds. They realised how serious the situation was. But the miner's strike was on at the time and those people were up to their necks in working for the miners, they were totally overstretched and so this bunch of hippies at Nostell Priory didn't receive their first attention.
The local miners came down with blankets and food. Earlier the Convoy had donated a sum of money to the local miners support group. So when they heard there had been a trashing of the Convoy, some miners understood what the situation was, and they came to help.
A few other people were wandering back onto the site now. They were folk who had taken one look at the original police arrival and didn't like what they saw and disappeared over the hedges and into woods, maybe half a dozen or ten people out of several hundred were off and away. Maybe they were the wiser ones.
And a few people actually hadn't been rounded up at all. These ones who weren't rounded up were people who were not normally convoy, although it was not obvious that they were not normally convoy, their vehicles looked as convoy as anything else and so did they. But they weren't. They were travellers who normally move around as individuals, or twos and threes, and somehow the police intelligence was accurate enough to know which was which. Ganesh's Chai Shop was, I think, the most obvious example of that. This was a café bus which had been travelling round the festivals all summer. That was left alone, and the people in it were left alone. So they now were helping the others.
Meanwhile back at Leeds police station ...
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