Saturday, April 21, 2007

Benny Rothman's Twyford Down Mass Trespass recollections

The following text is copied verbatim from a piece of writing Benny submitted for publication in the Countryman magazine after taking place in the Mass Trespass at Twyford Down on July 4th 1994:

I arrived at Twyford a day before the scheduled Mass Trespass in opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill, and this gave me the opportunity to look at the site where such destruction of the environment had taken place and where history of the fight to oppose this devastation had been made. It also gave me the opportunity to meet up with the people who had led this now famous campaign of opposition.

The cutting to carry the road stood out glaringly white, broken chalk rock in the surrounding sea of green vegetation. Already some of the road had been surfaced and work was in progress with tarmac carriers, rollers and earth movers moving in the new surface. What was most outstanding was the constant movement of four wheeled vehicles carrying Group 4 security guards patrolling the road endlessly. No wonder the contractors are putting millions of pounds aside to maintain this picture of warlike hostility to any opposition. Hardly a sign of consumer friendly cooperation at this stage, more like an army of occupation in hostile territory.

My guide to the site was a young chap who was on the large list of people who had been served with injunctions prohibiting them from setting foot on the cutting and road, or with a hefty fine or term of imprisonment or both. The manner in which this group of 'injunctees' had been identified is a story in itself. Some of them had already served terms of imprisonment, for violating these injunctions. Many of them including young women have already been in jail and in some cases badly beaten up.

We walked into the surrounding countryside, rich in chalk down flowers which had grown there undisturbed for hundreds of years, many varieties of orchids, masses of dropworts, poppies and a host of flowers new to me. I also had pointed out to me the eroded roadways used by early inhabitants called dongas.

I wondered as I walked whether or not this rich harvest of flowers could survive the pollution which would come with the opening of the motorway.

When I was taken to the offices of the campaigning body called Road Alert, I could see how difficult it was for them to carry on, with only scrap furniture no real tables, old gift computers and office equipment.

They had very little more than tremendous enthusiasm to carry them forward. They were young in years but already old in accumulated experience, in touch with protest groups from all parts of the country.

I met ... an attractive young woman who had already served sentences of 28 days and 10 days for contempt against the trespass injunctions. She like many other young people had abandoned their jobs and degree courses at university to take part full time in the many protest groups. They were answering calls from all parts of the country. Organising and arranging press interviews drawing posters, checking arrangements for the 10001 minor events which were due to take place. Far from being eccentrics they seemed to be very down to earth intelligent youngsters.

I looked through the masses of photographs and press cuttings that they had accumulated, and saw some of the excellent posters they had made and mounted for exhibitions. It was of course all done on a shoestring.

I later hurried out with my guide who was due to give an interview to a local television station, after which I was driven to a little village by the river Hamble where I was given overnight hospitality, fed like a lord, and next morning transported down to Twyford where after helping in the general erection of a small marquee and odd tents and posters, I took part in a large press 'conference' I think it was called.

As speakers and representatives from many organisations were being interviewed photographed and videoed, more and more were arriving. I had already given an interview to a local radio station by phone the night before, and I met up with many more papers magazines and television crews at that gathering in the open at the hillside of St. Catherines Hill.

Then the crowds grew, and the temperature rose. Percussion bands played, music from a variety of instruments throbbed, chanting and signing from different groups all unrehearsed and spontaneous arose from all sides, and amid all this hubbub interviews were taking place. At one point I was in discussion with Joan Bakewell on camera but whether or not anything could be made out in the general explosion of activity and noise I don't know. Cameras were clicking, video and cam corders were clicking, and vast crowds were milling around. A platform of sorts had been erected, and I was meeting up with old and new acquaintances. Friends I had not seen for years came forward. I knew some, but could not remember others but it was all one happy determined band.

And still the sun blazed down and the temperature rose. I don't know if I was showing signs of distress, as unfortunately I had left my sun cap in my rucksack which was buried in an immense pile of bags and rucksacks so I had to take the full impact of the sun. Many good friends brought me water which dozens of the audience were drinking from plastic bottles, lukewarm but very welcome, fruit was being handed around, especially strawberries for which the area (Hampshire) was famous before many of the strawberry fields were converted into Posh housing and of course offices.

The Chairwoman of the meeting was doing an heroic job. Literally hundreds of speakers were coming to the platform and wanting not merely to be introduced, but wanting to 'say a word or two'. Still she coped marvellously and as I was saying my own word or two, the banners wee being picked up and an immense crowd set off onto the trespass along the main footpath with dozens of other groups from the hillsides following on along other footpaths.

Meanwhile I was being taken care of by the father and mother of one of the committee, with instructions to make sure I got to Winchester Station in time for my train. The masses of protestors walked on, with no signs of police or security guards, unto we reached a pushed over fence onto the Twyford Down Cutting. There was a small group of police and security guards assembled at that point wisely standing way back and looking on. A short distance beyond that point it was going back time for me, and together with my escort we turned back and after a long walk finishing off by the riverside reached a road where I was given a lift down to the station.

I was in good time with minutes to spare, only to hear an announcement from the railway loud speakers that the train to Manhchester would be late owing to a fire close to the line. Ultimately, I got back to my home about an hour later than I had expected, tired and sunburnt but very pleased to have been in such good company and for such a worthy cause.

The anti climax came on Monday when I looked through the Sunday and Monday papers to see what coverage had been given to the event. There virtually had been a complete blackout of the event either in the newspapers and on radio and television.


The largest event against the Public Order Bill which will probably become law during this month unamended in all its injustice, its attacks on liberty, and its probably effects in the future was surely worth some coverage somewhere. Dozens of journalists were in attendance, with cameras and television crews why the blackout on news.

Could it be political, or economic. I can only see that frustration and bitterness at such treatment of the public affected by many of the matters which the government was endeavouring to bottle up with this Public Order Bill will blow up in the faces of the inept politicians, and their 'politically correct' supporters in all quarters. They might get the genie in the bottle but can they keep it there. I have seen the determination and courage of the young people in this campaign, and my prediction is that even although the legislators might win on paper, they will lose on the ground. The more support we can give to campaigners involved in the numerous battles for social justice taking place the sooner we can end the farce of so called democracy and the abuse of power...

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