Forgive Us Our Trespasses

At the tailend of 1993, then Home Secretary Michael Howard announced his Criminal Justice Bill.  It contained a direct assault on travellers, squatters, ravers, free festivals, hunt sabs and environmental protest, turning trespass from a civil offence into a criminal one, outlawing lifestyles and limiting the right to protest.

Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill became another strand of the protests at Twyford Down and Twyford Rising, the forthcoming book about the protests, details the oppressive sections of the Bill, as well as the incredible rainbow alliance of groups who joined together to resist them.

In spring of 1994, a meeting of many of the different groups involved in opposing the Criminal Justice Bill, decided to stage a summer protest against many of the clauses it contained. The groups wanted to hold the rally not in London, the traditional stage for large demonstrations, but at a place where the actions and lifestyles targeted by the Bill had actually occurred. Stonehenge, site of many free festivals, was discussed as a possible location, but Twyford Down was the obvious choice and the planned mass trespass into the Cutting would be the final protest before the new road opened to traffic.

Twyford Rising includes stories from those involved in organising the mass trespass, including the frentic networking at Glastonbury festival, which led to a squatter being asked to speak on one of the main stages.

Amongst the speakers on the day was Benny Rothman, a diminutive octogenarian who had been a leader of the mass trespass onto Kinder Scout in 1932 – an action that helped create the right to roam movement, leading to the creation of National Parks of England and Wales and ultimately to rights of way legislation.  The action also earned Benny a prison sentence.

After his visit to Twyford Down, Benny wrote to the organisers with his thoughts:

I arrived at the Twyford Cutting a day before the scheduled Mass Trespass in opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill and this gave me an opportunity to look at the site where such destruction of the environment had taken place and where the history of the fight to oppose this devastation had been made. It also gave me the opportunity to meet up with the people who had led this now famous campaign of opposition.

The Cutting of broken chalk rocks to carry the road stood out glaringly white, in the surrounding sea of green vegetation. Already some of the road had been surfaced and work was in progress with tarmac carriers, rollers and earthmovers moving on the new surface. What was the most outstanding activity was the constant movement of four wheeled vehicles carrying Group 4 security guards endlessly. No wonder the contractors were putting millions of pounds aside to maintain this picture of warlike hostility to any opposition…like an army of occupation in hostile territory.

Twyford Rising tells much more of Benny’s story and the unfolding events of the 1994 mass trespass, as well as the sub-culture of protest and lifestyles spurred on by the Bill – a movement that became dubbed ‘DIY Culture’ for its ethos of living on little money, re-using the waste of mainstream society and creating a life poor in means, but rich in life itself.

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Mass Trespass, Twyford Down 1994.  Photo: J Cooke

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