Severn Revels Festival
Heavy-handed policing at Gloustershire festival
Warren Makepeace was among a number of festival-goers none too impressed with the policing strategy at one of the UK's more established summer festivals...........
August 2000 / Squall Download 6, Sept-Oct 2000, pg. 11.
If your idea of fun is having police and security guards constantly peering over your shoulders then the Severn Revels Festival was for you. Tucked away in the Forest of Dean with a capacity of just three thousand this family-friendly event had the feel of a village fete. The dance tent on Saturday night resembled a wedding reception, with babies and grannies largin' it on the dance floor. Yet Gloucester Police's reaction to the Severn Revels can be best summed up by one local who complained: "The police came prepared for war rather than a summer music festival."
On arrival you had to run the gauntlet of jack booted cops in blue boiler suits at the gate pulling vehicles over and searching people for drugs. Once inside, police and security made their presence known. During the weekend they nicked 40 people, the vast majority for possession of cannabis; a victimless crime. 11.30 P.M. was curfew and the police made sure this was strictly enforced. At one point they threatened a stall for selling post curfew tea and coffee, while a lone acoustic guitar player was warned that his strumming was in breach of the license! They even threatened to nick someone for breach of the peace for having the cheek to get a petition together complaining about police heavy handiness.
To say the Severn Revels festival organisers have never had it easy is an understatement. Last year's event was cancelled in part because the cops told them they would be charging nearly £15,000 a day for their services. The year before 58 people we're nicked for mainly drug offences. However, Gloucestershire's finest don't seem as keen on this zero tolerance approach when it comes to policing the rest of the county. At a recent stormy public meeting the Chief Constable heard locals complain that they were sick of excuses about a lack of manpower being blamed for the long delays in responding to reports of crime. Especially when the police managed to dream up so many for the festival. Another resident, Roger Price, accused the cops of putting fears into the minds of residents in the neighbouring villages in the run up to the festival. He added: "During the festival there was an incredibly heavy-handed attitude by the police. They really were very, very aggressive to people."
Local Forest of Dean MP, Diana Organ, has now written to the Chief Constable telling him that she had received several reports from organisers and constituents saying the policing of the festival was "aggressive and provocative" Another Labour MP, Dawn Primarolo, who went along to the Revels, commented on the "large and threatening police presence" particularly compared to festivals in Bristol. While Paul Knowles, one of the Revels licensees has asked the police why the event had not been policed in the same low-key way as the Coleford Switched-On Festival which had happened a few weeks earlier just a couple of miles down the road from the Revels.
So why the police reaction to an event which is a culmination of the Revels Community Programme, where many of the artists and performers at the festival took part in 30 workshops at schools and special needs centres throughout the area? Why the reaction to a festival which receives funding from the Forest of Dean District Council, the National Lottery, and the public service union UNISON? Some people reckon the powers that be are worried that it is the 'thin end of the wedge' and could become another Glastonbury. But maybe a local doctor hit the nail on the head " It was fortunate that the over-policing did not spoil the good natured and happy atmosphere of the festival." Unfortunately for many the policing did seriously spoil the atmosphere.
Maybe the over-the-top policing was a deliberate policy in making organisers and punters have such a miserable time that they won't want anything to do with the event ever again. But the most depressing thing is that the Severn Revels experience isn't a one off. All too often festival organisers up and down the country have to put up with this kind of unjustified treatment.