Carry on camping

IssueOctober 2007
Feature by Janet Kilburn

On 9 August, charges against ten women (and a dog), brought under the Aldermaston byelaws, were dropped ( “Women arrested at cocktail party”, July/Aug PN).

The women had been charged with “camping” and “lighting a bonfire”, following the introduction of new bylaws on 31 May 2007. Their original arrest - on 8 June - was, frankly, bizarre; Ministry of Defence (MoD) police took more than three hours to get women to the nearest police station - partially due to women vanishing, drinking beer, falling asleep, or taking their clothes off.

Camping as terrorism

In April 2006, areas within the fence at Aldermaston were designated as protected areas under the Terrorism Act 2006, which introduced provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) at Aldermaston and other military sites, and apparently aimed to help the MoD police “to determine the difference between trespasser and potential terrorist”. (So far, one woman has been arrested - and charged - under SOCPA, joining cases at Menwith Hill, Lakenheath and, most recently, at Faslane.)

At the same time, new byelaws were quietly put out to consultation. They would - according to the MoD - “protect the general public's democratic right to protest, by ensuring that any such protests are conducted in a safe and controlled environment”.

In their original form, the new byelaws would have prohibited all forms of protest, including meetings, assemblies and processions, handing out leaflets and holding placards. Somehow, AWPC - armed only with the Human Rights Act - managed to get all these “criminal acts” removed, but sadly not the prohibitions on “camping in tents, caravans, trees or otherwise”, lighting bonfires and “attach[ing] any thing to, or plac[ing] any thing over, any wall, fence, structure or other surface” (like banners on a fence?).

Taking AWPC to court

Like other MoD sites, AWE Aldermaston had been subject to military land byelaws for years, but these had not been enforced since legal challenges at Greenham and elsewhere in the late '80s. Undoubtedly, the MoD hoped they had learnt from previous byelaws disasters and had removed all their flaws. The case against the first ten arrested was thrown out because the MoD were unable to provide the Crown Prosecution Service with any evidence; so we can keep exposing the flaws till next time.

Taking the MoD to court

A legal challenge to the byelaws - in the form of a judicial review - has been mounted, and there has been positive legal advice on the prospects of its success. Treasury Solicitors have been informed that despite the changes to the byelaws, they remain disproportionate, and incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

AWPC are sending a clear message to the MoD that women will continue to occupy space outside AWE Aldermaston, continue resisting Britain's nuclear weapons programme, and continue claiming the right to protest, to camp, light fires and attach things to surfaces. Why not join us? The next camp is from 12 to14 October.