Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Newbury Bypass protest 1996
Photo: Karen Robinson.

Road Rage

The Newbury Sausage

1996 kicked off with a vengeance. The festive season finished, and it was down to Newbury. Representatives from four full-on years of road protests gathering on yet another tract of beautiful countryside for the long-awaited showdown with the Highways Agency. Neil Goodwin wrote the diary...

Squall 13, Summer 1996, pp. 48-49.

Newbury became many things. To local MP, David Rendell, it was a soap box from which to bolster re-election prospects. To Brays Detective Agency, it was the opportunity to waste another £500,000 photographing people smoking rollies or drinking cups of tea.

Tree FM Newbury

To the security guards it was £3.50 per hour. There were mornings when you felt that even if only one protester had turned out the contractors would still have had to lay on hundreds of security. “We’ve only got to be lucky once,” a protestor shouted as the CB radio crackled into life. “You’ve got to be lucky all the time.”

To the police it was undoubtedly an expensive headache (£3.6 million), though individual constables were more than happy clocking-up the over-time. Tucked inside their tunics, like a crude phrase book from some far-flung police state, each officer carried the soon-to-be very familiar wordings of the CJA.

For three months the so-called Newbury Sausage, a sausage-shaped exclusion zone, formed the basis for some of the most stringent bail conditions since the miners’ strike. Digger-diving, that celebrated cornerstone of NVDA, was rendered virtually impossible by the new Aggravated Trespass provision. Tree-sitting became the activists’ predominant tactic. There were 770 arrests. Seventy two people were arrested four times.

Only to the protestors - the locals, tree-dwellers, ground crew and office bods - was Newbury staggeringly beautiful. The following diary is dedicated to those brave souls that defied the chainsaws and exposed themselves to violence, incarceration, and severe winter conditions, and for whom the days were measured by the amount of time they could keep the trees alive...

On his last day as Transport Secretary, Brian “paint-splatt” Mawhinney gives the go-ahead for the Newbury by-pass, thereby abandoning a year long review of the scheme.

The Third Battle of Newbury begins in spectacular style when campaigners blockade the security compound at Abbots Farm, Reading, with two 25 foot tripods. Work is cancelled for the day.

Day Two. Campaigners lock-on to the Reading coach station contracted to carry Reliance Security. Horsemans Coaches cancel the contract. A solitary digger is besieged at Penn Wood for five hours. The police “recommend” that work be halted for the day.

“Ragtag army devises its tactics in the pub” The Times. Red Face Day at the Department of Transport as clearance work is abandoned for a third day.

Meat-wagons signal the end of police neutrality. Thirty four arrests for Aggravated Trespass, and mobile chainsaw crews tear into the first of 10,000 trees.

The police and security bill tops £240,000, with 116 arrests and 300 trees felled. A group of Newbury business chiefs back the protesters. Of 140 responses to a Newbury Business Breakfast Club questionnaire sent out to local firms, asking: “If a better route could be found, would you like it examined?”, 110 say yes.

Angel: “In the spirit of Lady Godiva, I’m here to mourn the death of my mother and the 17 million people killed directly by the motor-car. A service in Coventry Cathedral commemorating 100 years of the motor-car, complete with a Coventry Daimler chugging down the aisle, is disrupted by a nude protest.

Balin’s 16-day occupation of a tripod ends after repeated attacks from local vigilantes.

Keith, Security Manager, Reliance Security: “Anything in the trees today you whack it, right? Thwack it with your helmet. Anything. And don’t get caught.” Posing as an unemployed French carpenter, with a glowing reference from “Michael Howard - Director CJA Enterprises”, The Guardian’s Environmental Editor, John Vidal, infiltrates Reliance Security and exposes a culture of violence:
GUARD 1: “Don’t forget to say good morning as you break their fingers.”
GUARD 2: “I’d cut the trees down with the smellies in them.”
GUARD 1: “Remember, a kidney punch doesn’t leave bruises lads. That’s how I got away with bullying at school.”
Keith, the security manager, is suspended pending “an immediate investigation”.

Controversy surrounds the release of a Highways Agency report. The document, which formed part of 1995’s final review of the scheme, estimates a saving of two minutes on off-peak journey times through Newbury once the road is completed. “We don’t just build roads to save time,” says the Highways Agency. “We estimate the road will save 28 lives over a 30 year period.”

A group of churchmen hold an on-site service for protestors and anger the local pro-bypass diocese. John Bickersteth, the former Bishop of Bath and Wells, asks God to “help our Government to see how feeble and two-faced they are being, like Pontius Pilate.” Five security guards defect. Bemused protesters initially suspect a cunning plot to infiltrate their ranks.

“The guards grabbed a protestor by her arm even though it was in a sling,” explains one defector. “I said ‘that was out of order’ and he told me to shut my mouth. Then a policeman came up and asked me if I’d seen what was going on. I said I did and could act as a witness. Then one of the guards said I was sacked. So I joined the other side.”

Snelsmore Common becomes the setting for Britain’s largest ever anti-roads gathering. Six thousand people, including TV celebrities and a six foot doormouse, walk the proposed route. Seventy two year old Fred Gibson, a former private in the Essex Regiment, donates his war medals to a tree-dweller as “a mark of respect”. “My wartime mates died dreaming of the English countryside,” says Fred. “We can’t let them destroy it without a fight.”

National day of action - 150 sign up for security work at Blue Arrow, the recruitment agency, while others “renovate” the Newbury offices of Tarmac, a potential bidder for the scheme. Earlier, clearance work had to be cancelled when most of the vehicles used to ferry security guards experienced “mysterious defects”.

“We shall fight them in the beeches.” The latterday parliamentary forces of Nicholas Blandy, the Under Sheriff of Berkshire, move in to begin a full month of evictions. One hundred officers launch a pre-dawn raid on Pixie Village camp. They destroy the ground camp and “take into custody” the network of underground tunnels that run beneath the Site of Special Scientific Interest.

By nightfall, with only eight protesters remaining between six interconnected tree-houses, the campaign braces itself for humiliating defeat. However, much to the embarrassment of Thames Valley police, reinforcements manage to breach the floodlit cordon overnight. With the element of surprise so spectacularly squandered, the camp holds out till the weekend.

“Arresting people 70ft in the air and turning them upside down is so reckless as to quite likely constitute a criminal offence,” - Alan Bridger, Solicitor. Bailiffs turn nasty at the Granny Ash eviction. Balin is shown on TV being attacked by a riot shield. One man falls 20ft from a tree. Arthur Pendragon, self-styled reincarnation of King Arthur, is arrested for possession of an offensive weapon - his broadsword. He later strips-off before mortified magistrates in protest at the banning of Excalibar from the courtroom.

Ben Moon, Climber: “You run up the trees, the adrenalin’s really flowing. You’re 70, 80 feet up, not clipped on to anything, and they’re grabbing at your ankles.” A posse of Sheffield climbers, including Ben Moon, one of the best free-climbers in the world, engage in aerial skirmishes with “mercenary” climbers sent in to evict Gotan camp. Sheriff Blandy takes five hours to evict one tree.

Bailiffs, security and police frogmen move in at 3 am for the start of the two and a half day eviction of Kennet camp.

At Reddings Copse, an oak tree falls onto “the mother of cherry pickers”, specially imported for the eviction of a 120ft Corsican Pine. A climber is injured. Sheriff Blandy barely looks up from his packed lunch.

The three-day Ricketty Bridge eviction, complete with tree-top sound system and 150 branch-bound defenders, kicks off.

Sheriff Blandy: “Oh dear. We seem to have a security problem.” Triumphalism turns to farce and undignified retreat as Blandy’s press conference is hijacked by protesters at Middle Oak. To the image of a speeding landrover flanked by red-faced rozzers, an ITN journalist utters the immortal lines: “And the sheriff was quite literally run out of town.”

Martin Luther King: “If the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” In direct defiance to the installation of 20 miles of high security fencing around the proposed route, Phase II of the campaign begins with the setting up of a Diggers’ community at Gotan camp. English Nature considers the planting of vegetables and flowers by 150 locals as having “done more damage than the road-builders”. This summer, as tree-folk recover from Sheriff Blandy’s sustained attack, Phase II of the campaign is set to continue with a blockade of COSTAIN, appointed as the construction contractors in June. Third Battle is urging sorted itinerants everywhere to “BLOCKADE THE BUREAUCRATS” by ringing, faxing and writing to COSTAIN and the Highways Agency to demand a little soul-searching.

Broadway, Broad Street,
TEL: (0121) 275 8007 (Steve Rowsell, Project Director)
TEL: (0121) 275 8000 / 275 8392 / 275 8237 (Switchboard)
FAX: (0121) 275 8424 / 275 8184

Costain House, Nicholsons Walk,
Maidenhead, BERKSHIRE SL16 1LN
TEL: (01628) 842285 (Roger Jones, Contracts Director)
TEL: (01628) 842444 (Switchboard)
FAX: (01628) 74477

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