27 SEPTEMBER 1969, Page 30


On the squat


It looked as if they were going to be there for ever. Capturing the front pages of the national press and long minutes of the tele- vision news, enthralling reporters with their raw political jibes and keeping the watching public in constant hazard of the bricks they dropped, the so-called Downing Street Com- mune had threatened to continue their week- end-long 'occupation' of Balmoral Castle indefinitely. Posing for press photographers in the grudging company of the legal ten- ants, a single family with four children who, he said, had been `persuaded' to abandon their rights in favour of the squatters, self- styled 'Dr Harry' Wilson had warned that

they would tolerate no outside interference. They had, he said, access to levers con- trolling the supply of power to large areas of the country, and could at a moment's notice cause widespread disruption and chaos.

Despite a statement from the Civil Service to the effect that anyone attempting to tinker with such machinery would almost certainly meet with a fatal accident, the mood of the public was cautious: on the evidence of their experience in the past, 'Dr' Wilson's threat seemed far from idle. The Commune was also known to number among its adherents notorious underworld figures like 'Starve Stewart, on the 'wanted' list in Africa for mass murder, and such men were thought unlikely to accept the en- forced curtailment of their personal freedom with equanimity. Nevertheless, the continu- ing existence of the Commune, maintained by menaces and depending on the violent seizure of private property, was an infuriat- ing feather under the buttocks of established law-respecting society, as were the often repeated pseudo-socialist slogans that were shouted—sometimes, even, under duress, by the legal tenant herself—from within the be- sieged citadel.

That the castle was under siege, however, there was no doubt at all: the public reac- tion to those members of the Commune who appeared in the open at Balmoral was for the most part jocular, but always funda- mentally hostile. The bankers in the City who actually own the property dwelt in their conversations with the press principally on the squalor, incompetence and repulsive appearance of the squatters, and on their manifest inability to 'run' the castle, rather than on their moral right to be there, con- ceivably nervous of any subsequent discus- sion of their own moral position. But their

anxiety to be rid of the Commune was hard to conceal, and when bronzed Broadstair) property developer `Teddy' Heath, who 1, believed to have his eye on the buildine. offered to rally a thousand white British rugby players under the leadership of an unnamed Wolverhampton razor expert 'o `sort the squatters out', the City men were certainly all in favour. And with the pres,. despite their understandable fascination With the flamboyant 'Dr Harry' and his followers, anxious only for a showdown, the occupier, were wise to make what preparations thee could to defend themselves.

According to those members of the pre, who succeeded in gaining access to Bal- moral at the weekend in the guise of 'guests', the mood inside was deceptivels calm. Food distribution took place three times a day in an orderly manner, to the accompaniment of folk music played on the pipes by bearded drop-outs in exotic moun- tain draperies: several small animals were said to be loose in the building, and maga- zines, books, and pieces of clothing were seen lying about in the larger rooms. There was also evidence that alcohol and nicotine had been consumed. Despite hearsay evi- dence that sexual intercourse was taking place in one of the upstairs rooms during the night, no hard evidence came to light. though one press man was physically assaulted and subjected to what he described as a 'flood of obscene language' for his painse Meanwhile the police were not inactive. At noon on Sunday a carefully laid plan went into operation that worked with the precision of oiled clockWork. As the church clock struck twelve, Superintendent Ben (The Squint') McTurpin bicycled slowly up to the front door, leant his machine against the wall, and approached a member of 'Dr Harry's Hell's Angels bodyguard, ostensible to inquire about the mental health of Dr. Harry himself. Raising his hat, he kicked the bodyguard sharply in the crutch, and blew six sharp blasts on his whistle. Within seconds the entire Keystone Division, who had taken up positions near the castle during the night disguised as trees, rushed the build- ing, dodging hither and thither as they avoided missiles hurled down from the roof. hopping over obstacles, ducking under ropes. and encouraged by the cheering of a large crowd, smashed their way through the ground floor windows.

For some hour and a half the fighting continued. Then it was over as quickly as it had begun. The squatters, many of whom were suffering from self-inflicted wounds or collision sickness, were frogmarched out at breakneck speed, loaded into waiting busy and black marias and driven off in all direc- tions to the shrilling of whistles and the erratic bangs of exploding exhausts. The tenant and her family, who confessed that the weekend had been 'really too ghastls. were nevertheless 'a little surprised' at the necessity for police action on such a scale: but they had not been able themselse'. however, to think of any alternat I C. though they had all racked their brain, throughout the weekend. The Keystone Division were in high spirits last night after a gift of £1,000,000 was made to their Benevolent Fund by entrepreneur 'Teddy. Heath. 'And now on to Downing Street." he told me last night, referring to the dere- lict house to which 'Dr' Wilson is believed to have withdrawn after being released on bail. 'I think it is time we showed them who really runs this country once and for all.'