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Diary

Five of us crammed into the car, sleeping bags and picnic piled high on our laps. “Anyone for chocolate?” It was 8.30am on a Friday as we finally pulled out of St Leonards in a hired car on our way to the great climate swoop at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the country.

The day before, we heard news that police had already surrounded both Ratcliffe and Drax power stations in preparation for the arrival of activists who might try to gain access. I’d already made the decision not to get arrested as I just didn’t have the time. It felt relaxing to attend a demonstration which I wasn’t involved in organising and knew nothing was required of me other than to be there.

45 minutes before the Saturday swoop, our affinity group of five finally made it to a small wood opposite the power station after a four-mile cross-country walk. Someone spotted some police on motorbikes racing up and down a freshly-ploughed field between the wood and power station. We all ducked behind some shrubbery; the mission had become a mock cloak-and-dagger operation, which we all went along with. Two other swoopers stumbled through the trees and knelt down beside us: “Anyone for chocolate?”

It hit one o’clock. I got the text message “SWOOP NOW”. The five of us jumped out of the bushes fully clad in judge’s robes and wigs, clutching a huge black banner with a hand-painted polar bear saying “Arghhh, Coal”.

We were quickly pursued by the motorised police brigade wanting to know our intentions. We marched on around the perimeter of the fence. It wasn’t long before we came across other swoopers, who were in the main young energetic activists intent on entering the station. People gave our outfits the thumbs up as they charged off towards the main gate. Others were huddled in groups having a meeting to plan next steps.

We followed the crowd to a small hillock for the next scheduled swoop. Mass co-ordination was partly managed by text messages directing us to grid references on a map which had been given out. We gathered on the hill and had an impromptu mass meeting of around 50 individuals. Although very well facilitated, no coherent plan emerged and it ended with people marching to the fence and trying to pull it down with mere might alone.

A slight fracas erupted as activists tugged at the de-electrified fence while police tried to stop folk from climbing over. Slowly police gained complete control of the situation and mounted a drive up the hill with the aid of dogs to disperse the crowd.

Although it was clear police orders were to remain moderate, I felt a mistrust of individual officers who might feel wound up and lash out; the feeling of uncertainty was scary.

We retreated into a silver birch sapling forest to encounter other swoopers: “Anyone for chocolate?” That night a helicopter hovered overhead as I lay in a tent hidden in the night-time dark depths of a thick wood. It was the same helicopter which would shout unintelligible commands at us next day as we strolled across a field and eventually led to us being charged at by officers on horseback followed by a couple of PCs on foot with dogs.

It was obvious their tactic was to intimidate as they quoted anti-terror laws. We negotiated our exit out of the field and slowly walked off to continue on our morning tour of the fence before returning to the hired car and more chocolate.