Welcome to Peace News, the newspaper for the UK grassroots peace and justice movement. We seek to oppose all forms of violence, and to create positive change based on cooperation and responsibility. See more

"Peace News has compiled an exemplary record... its tasks have never been more critically important than they are today." Noam Chomsky

  • facebook
  • rss
  • twitter

Since 1 October, the Faslane nuclear submarine base in western Scotland has been subjected to wave after wave of anti-nuclear activists visiting and blockading the site. As Peace News went to press at least 125 people had been arrested for carrying out actions at the site in the first three weeks. Below, Frances Laing interviews blockader Joan Meredith and, at the end, there's a quick round up of the highlights of the story so far...

Founding principles

Frances Laing talks to Joan Meredith, founder member of Trident Ploughshares, following her arrest at Faslane 365 in October.

Frances: Why did you join the opening Faslane 365 blockade?

Joan: I remembered Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was 1945. I was 15 years old - the announcement on the radio that the bomb had been dropped and then the awful thing was seeing it on the Pathe Gazette news - utter devastation and the tales of horror - how people had finished up as mere shadows on the wall ... trying to ease the pain, the burns, children on their way home from school - it was so horrific - I couldn't understand why we had dropped the bombs - why cities had been targeted like that - with civilians at the receiving end with no warning.

I'd been working with Women's Aid - protesting against violence towards women - and CND - then I met a friend at an anti-apartheid meeting who told me about the nuclear sub based at Faslane. I began to think about the submarine and how it was really state-organised violence against vulnerable people with the main aim to strike at civilians. It was being used by our country. It seemed that Trident was the ultimate violence.

Frances: Why is Faslane strategically important for international peace movements?

Joan: Because it's linked with the US threat - if those missiles are ever used, it threatens the whole world and the planet will never recover.

We've come to the point where we've had big demonstrations - in London, Manchester and so on -- and people have got to decide. Some realise that they can no longer trust politicians. The world is in such a mess that we have got to take the responsibility ourselves.

Something like Faslane is an opportunity for people to show they are tired of hypocrisy and all the waste of money. Instead of Trident we need basic fundamental things all over the world - hospitals, carpenters, better schools - Faslane 365 is going on for a whole year and people can find different ways of taking part.

Frances: In the past you've also campaigned for better conditions for people in prisons. How often have you been arrested for your beliefs, and what was it like for you this time in the cells?

Joan: After years of protests and the sixteenth arrest I lost count. This time after the Faslane blockade I was held at Clydebank (like the other protesters) for thirty hours. In the cell -- about six foot by eight foot perhaps -- there's a concrete block for a bed, with a plastic mattress, a thick window and a toilet. It was not pleasant at all, we were not allowed to communicate with each other -- the isolation was quite hard to bear.

I was on my own for most of the time except when I was fetched out for fingerprinting. It was dirty and hot, airless and the noise of the air conditioning prevented you from getting any sleep. The heat was very bad. The food was terrible. Our watches were taken away and I had no idea what time it was. They opened the flap in the door at intervals. You had to ask what was happening. In the end I asked to see a doctor because my blood pressure had gone up. They let me wash and get ready.

Frances: What would you say to Peace News readers imprisoned on their “shift” at Faslane 365?

Joan: Ask at the beginning what is going to happen, so that you know. Take a book -- one that is easy to read. You can ask for a pencil and a piece of paper or a drink of water. The big thing is when they open the flap to keep asking what is happening. You need to know. People should keep asking. [Note: free issues of PN should be available for anyone detained at Clydebank - ask for a copy.]

Frances: What about broadening the protest? Not everyone can get arrested, can they? What about people with children?

Joan: People should write to their member of parliament. Our elected representatives should be made aware of the large numbers of people who support the blockade.

F365 kicked off with a blockade by Greenham women, Women in Black and the Feministas (pictured). There were 13 arrests and no-one was charged. All the women arrested were held overnight, supposedly for court the next morning, though in reality just to prevent them blockading on the second day. This pattern of abuse of process has continued throughout the first three weeks of the campaign. 9 OCTOBER: Welsh women De Murphy (50), a bookkeeper from Swansea, and Carol Anne Phillips from Carmarthen arrested after their blockade created a three-mile traffic jam of navy trucks, cars and administration workers. The base was shut down for 20 minutes until police cut metal tubes and chains off the two. Murphy showed no regret about her action and as she was put into a police van she turned to the media cameras and said "Nuclear weapons have to be stopped and we did what we came here to do." 14 OCTOBER: Two Scottish teenagers arrested after deploying cunning teddy-bear lockon. Writing after the event, thirteen-year-old Catherine Holmes explained, "I began to feel that I wasn't being listened to, and so I decided that I wanted to be part of a direct action. This is why I had decided to go to Faslane and make my views heard." 16 OCTOBER: 42 Swedish and Finnish activists were arrested after blockading with lockons and a tripod. Amongst those arrested was Alexander Chamberland, spokesperson for the youth section of the Swedish Green Party. After being cut out, all were arrested for Breach of the Peace; the group had blocked the road for about two hours. Faslane 365, Valley Farmhouse, East Runton, Cromer, Norfolk NR27 9PN (0845 45 88 365; info@faslane365.org; http://www.faslane365.org).

Frances Laing is a member of the National Union of Journalists Email: features@franceslaing.co.uk