6 JULY 1985, Page 42


Saving the


P. J. Kavanagh If I were to write about what has really nagged at me this week this column would consist largely of questions to which I do not know, and am never likely to know, the answers. This would not be entertain- ing but it would at least be honest, and representative of the uncomfortable ignor- ance we feel too often.

For instance, why does Stonehenge now, with razor-wire and wet policemen and alsatian dogs, look like the missile base at Molesworth? Yes, I know there were injunctions from English Heritage and it is police duty to see that such things are upheld, but why does part of the English heritage look like that? Because of damage done in previous years. But what damage? Perhaps there was a great deal but if it has been described anywhere I have missed the description. There is one pleasant story of previous police alarm that the rhythms set up by a rock band might dislodge the stones. A university student was sitting on top of one of them, holding a stick of rhubarb for some reason, so they asked him to conduct the band to a stop, which he did, with the rhubarb. That sounds more like it. What has changed?

The Chief Constable of Wiltshire said he was prepared to call in all the cops of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire (thereby leaving Adlestrop undefended) to prevent a not very large number of 'Peace People' reaching what they call 'the Stones'. They do not sound very dangerous. Perhaps they are, perhaps they are a threat to all we hold dear, but one thing we are ceasing to hold dear (ask anybody under 20) is our police- men, and that is serious. Nor am I much impressed with our loftier guardians, En- glish Heritage and the National Trust, who got the police into this fix in the first place.

Interviewed on Woman's Hour the 'Peo- ple' sounded pleasant enough, and bewil- dered. They only want to escape lives they consider dreary and `get back in touch with the elements', which they certainly did, poor devils, over the solstice weekend.

One woman said that new recruits took time to learn their ways. Some were putting up a shelter and a tree was in the way and they began to cut it. 'Ouch!' she said loudly in one of the cutter's ears, startling him. 'The tree can't say "ouch" so I'm saying it for it,' she explained in a motherly and North Country way. 'They got the point and maybe they'll pass it on.' Maybe they will and it would be a blandly optimistic and enviably ignorant person who found that story silly.

They do not feel they are parasites, they feel they are setting an example. I could not stand their lives for half an hour, even in good weather, but I do not see why they should not lead them. It is the police, they said, that keep them in large groups because it makes them easier to move on. They would prefer to live in smaller ones in places where they caused no bother — 'disused quarries in Wales', they sug- gested.

One couple with two young children were given permission by the police to park their van, which is their home. They left it and returned to find it surrounded by different policemen. They explained again and were given permission again. They returned a second time to find that a third set of policemen had broken it open and systematically wrecked it, even to the extent of breaking every dial on the dash- board. They seemed amazingly without rancour. Their chief concern seemed to be for their children, what they would think of policemen now, when they had heard them promise.

Perhaps that story is not true. Perhaps no policemen acted with `excessive zeal'. But if there is to be any inquiry into the truth whose findings will be published I have not heard of it. Nor, as Alan Watkins pointed out (`Diary' 15 June), has anything been heard from the Home Secretary, or Neil Kinnock, or Gerald Kaufman. It is this that has been preoccupying me and, I daresay, others, and it is perhaps worth mentioning before it dissolves into the blur that constitutes our general unease. There was one unforgettable picture in a news- paper, of a solitary boy playing a pipe to the camera while behind him through the hedge burst policemen at the double in full riot gear. Perhaps they faced some dread- ful menace just off the edge of the picture? The pipe-player seemed unaware of it.