Burghfield Disarmament Camp — Report
Peace campers were in England from late last month to support Action AWE´s Burghfield Disarmament Camp. This was a two-week camp at AWE Burghfield — Britain´s nuclear bomb factory — including a blockade of the facility on September 2nd.
Arriving on the Saturday before the announced start date of the camp, we were quickly brought up to speed on the local network´s plans. Early Sunday morning saw us set off in convoy to take the site. Thanks to some excellent reconnaisance work and good choreography, we were able to set up right outside AWE Burghfield´s perimeter fence, deploying tents and a rapidly-immobilised caravan and securing the space with fencing.
The next few days were spent setting up the camp´s facilities and interacting with Ministry of Defence police. Not satisfied with the clear evidence of our competence and understanding, they made a point of repeatedly restating that we were in contravention of MOD byelaws, and collecting evidence of this dreadful transgression in the vain hope that the CPS might be interested. We did try to make their lives easier by explaining that Aldermaston Women´s Camp had already succeeded in contesting identical charges, but to no avail.
By the time the International Brigades arrived the camp had a full kitchen, water supply, toilets and sanitation facilities, and some other home comforts such as charging packs for computers and mobile phones. Newcomers were met at the police checkpoints established nearby and briefed before coming into the camp, in order to counter police misinformation. Eventually there were around sixty campers as people came from Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Finland and Spain — and all of them there for some direct action.
During the first week of the camp, there were regular workshops and planning meetings to prepare participants for the big blockade, an announced action to take place on the following Monday. Tactics and techniques were discussed and rehearsed, sites were scouted, and intelligence and information were exchanged.
Since all of this was happening within touching distance of a high-security nuclear weapons facility, in the full glare of a comprehensive suite of surveillance technology, and under the supervision of three police forces, the blockading teams set off on the morning of the 2nd expecting to be intercepted or otherwise inhibited en route. To our surprise, we discovered that we had confounded police plans by the simple measure of getting up early.
After successfully deploying almost unimpeded at a fairly obvious site, the Scottish team was able to enjoy the sight of several dozen police officers trooping past on their way to the morning briefing which would explain to them how to prevent us from setting up a blockade. In general the cops seemed fairly clueless, with one encouraging a locked-on protestor to disconnect so that her picture wouldn´t be printed in the local newspaper. Unfortunately this incompetence worked in their favour to some extent, with two blockaders voluntarily decoupling when it became clear that the police cutting team were going to put them in danger by using the wrong tools on a lock-on tube.
In the end Scotland managed three hours in situ, thanks to the use of reinforced heavy steel pipes. However, the top prize went to the Spanish section, who stayed locked-on for a massive fourteen hours! The Belgians also get extra credit for staging a good recovery after police found and stole the equipment they were planning to use. Overall, the traffic into AWE Burghfield was completely stopped at both gates for a full hour, with continued disruption for the entire day thanks both to additional blockades and an excessive police deployment. Twenty-two demonstrators were arrested, with twenty-one released the same day.
There were further workshops, debriefings, and activities at the camp for the remainder of the week, but possibly the main event in this time was a naked protest on the Thursday following the blockade. Of course the Scottish team would have loved to have been able to participate in this, but we were precluded from doing so by our bail conditions… Hats, and everything else, off to those who did.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a committed and capable team, and we would like to thank all involved in the camp. Special mention must be made of the amazing catering team, who fed the entire camp three times a day; the site team, who worked round the clock to make and keep the camp comfortable in every way; the transport team for keeping things rolling; and the locals whose planning and reconnaisance made the whole thing possible. We very much hope to work again with the Action AWE, War Resisters International, and War Starts Here network affiliates in the near future.
More information, photographs, and video from the camp, are available from the Action AWE campaign website here.
Court Addendum: Of those arrested on the day, most accepted police caution and will face no further consequences. One was held over for court the following day, where she was admonished and bound to observe the law for one year (after which she presumably has licence to recommence lawbreaking). The remainder entered various pleas by various means to Newbury Magistrates Court this morning; all are charged with variations on ´wilful obstruction of a highway´. More news when we have it.
Update: One protestor has plead guilty in order to expedite the removal of bail conditions, and has been fined £50 plus £25 costs. All others who appeared in court will now face trial in mid-January.