Amplification & Confrontation
Relations between Bedfordshire Police and the Exodus Collective had been improving after a long history of confrontation. That was until the Marquess of Tavistock demanded strong action and police jumped to the whistle. Jim Carey skirted the roadblocks to report on this latest attempt to halt the Exodus.
In this day and age we are getting used to rapid climate change. It may be sunny when you first step out but your best bet is to step out prepared for anything. The Exodus Collective know this more than many. After a seven year history as the on-off shooting target for Bedfordshire's local establishment, relations with local police had been improving over recent months. Exodus were cautious obviously, but they hardly expected a sustained period of peacetime dialogue to collapse so easily. Then again it wouldn't be the first time war has replaced peace on the orders of an aristocrat.
In a large and strategically-planned operation, Bedfordshire police seized the Exodus Sound System on its way back from a rave on the A5 in the wee hours of Sunday May 30. The rave took place at Duke's Corner, a stretch of land next to Woburn Golf Course owned by the Marquess of Tavistock, and was the second in Exodus's series of outdoor summer dances for 1999. Between 8-9am, as vehicles were beginning to leave the rave, 10 riot vans parked up near the entrance to the Duke's Corner site and disgorged lines of riot police dressed in numberless boiler suits. Police allowed individual vehicles to leave the site but lined the roads on either side evidently waiting for the Collective's distinctive main vehicles to appear. Exodus's sound rig is carried to and from their raves on three ex-army trucks and led-in-convoy by an ex-UN armoured vehicle.
Those people still on the site when the dance finished at 9am Sunday morning were asked by Exodus members to leave en masse with the sound system. As a consequence, the trucks carrying the rig left the site surrounded and protected by a convoy of vehicles. However, in a carefully planned manoeuvre, Bedfordshire police managed to split the main vehicles from the convoy using red traffic lights and roadblocks as pincers. Police vans and riot police then sealed both ends of the road down which the captured equipment was being held. Seven people were arrested for variously given reasons before Police hired a tow-trucks to transport the vehicles to a pound. Of the seven arrested, two were found in possession of small quantities of marijuana and two others will potentially be charged with obstruction after sitting in the road. All other charges were dropped the next day.
When questioned at one of the roadblocks, the commander of the police operation, Chief Superintendent Brian Minahane, acknowledged their manoeuvre had been planned and executed from Beds Police Headquarters in Kempston. He insisted the vehicles had not been technically confiscated but were to be impounded subsequent to being driverless. However, when asked to allow other Exodus drivers to remove the "unattended" vehicles rather than pay a removal firm to impound them, Inspector Minahane refused saying the trucks would be taken and kept until all vehicle documents had been presented to Dunstable police station. Police further alleged that the MK lorry carrying the main part of the sound system was suspect stolen, even though Exodus have owned and driven it around Bedfordshire for several years.
The following day, as Exodus secured the release of their sound system from a compound in Leighton Buzzard, they were trailed by two police helicopters and, bizarrely, an armed response unit. In a manoeuvre which led to yet more questions about Bedfordshire police's use of resources, a helicopter also buzzed over Exodus's HAZ Manor on the outskirts of Luton on several occasions during Monday. Police now insist that Exodus's trucks remain in custody until all their documentation has been checked, even though the very same vehicles have already been through such a process on a previous occasion.
The large scale police operation capped a tough weekend for Exodus. Earlier in the night, a collision between two cars on the A5 not far from the entrance to the venue, led to the death of a 20 year old driver. Members of the convoy still waiting to enter the rave helped emergency services deal with the incident. Asked why Bedfordshire Police had conducted their operation in the aftermath of this tragedy, Chief Superintendent Minahane said police had been planning the operation for some time and that it was in no way connected to the car crash earlier.
It is the fifth time Exodus have set their rig up on land owned by the Marquess of Tavistock, a powerful aristocrat, landowner and resident of one of Britain's largest stately homes, Woburn Abbey. Following an Exodus dance held on his land in 1998, police admitted to SQUALL that the Marquess (wealth estimate: £175 million including 13,000 acre Bedfordshire estate) had demanded strong action.
One senior police officer from Bedfordshire, interviewed after the event, said : "It is unfortunate that a telephone call from the Marquess of Tavistock receives more attention from high up than a complaint from a member of the general public. But that's the way it goes."
Previous to the weekend's events, relations between Exodus and local police had improved considerably after a long history of confrontation. However, following this latest operation, the spokesperson for the Exodus Collective, Glenn Jenkins, told SQUALL: "It's proof of the fact that the police will over-ride concerns for people's safety on behalf of the Marquess. Once again, improper political pressure has made the police at a high level jump like grasshoppers. Previous to this incident, we were in a situation of dialogue, discussion and no confrontation with the police and then, on behalf of the Marquess, it goes from peace to war."
A further peculiarity of the weekend's events was that the commander of this latest police operation - Chief Superintendent Minahane - is also divisional commander of Dunstable Police. Police officers from this station look set to take a court drubbing, following a highly critical judicial review delivered in the High Court in mid-May and reported on SQUALL's Underground Update. See Beds Police on the Rocks feature.
Although originally not intending to hold another rave for three or four weeks, Exodus now say they will hold one next weekend. "The next one's a protest," Glenn Jenkins told SQUALL. "The frequency of the dances is paced; they are a demonstration. When there are talks and dialogue we hold less of them but when there are dodgy attempts to stop the dances then the consensus of the Exodus Collective and the people who come to the dances is that the frequency of the events should step up."
To see Squall's full coverage of Exodus click here