After 20 years, nuclear protesters face eviction

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For 20 years, they have continually probed, tested and occasionally breached the outer defences of Britain's nuclear submarine base. They have helped organise mass blockades to try to halt the workings of the Trident submarine fleet and waged a non-violent guerrilla war against convoys of nuclear missiles.

For 20 years, they have continually probed, tested and occasionally breached the outer defences of Britain's nuclear submarine base. They have helped organise mass blockades to try to halt the workings of the Trident submarine fleet and waged a non-violent guerrilla war against convoys of nuclear missiles.

But the peace campaigners who live in the shadow of the razor wire and armed guards at the Royal Navy base at Faslane, near Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland, are finally facing eviction.

A three-day demonstration outside the gates of the base last month that resulted in more than 200 arrests has prompted local councillors to call for an end to Europe's longest-running protest.

What began as a two-week sit-in in 1982 has grown into a worldwide symbol of the anti-nuclear struggle. More than 10,000 people are estimated to have undertaken a tour of duty at the camp lasting anything from a few days to a few years.

The group of colourfully painted caravans, ramshackle huts and a teepee stand as a permanent reminder of opposition to the country's Trident nuclear deterrent.

"The camp is still as important today as it always has been," Jane Tallent – the deputy chairperson of CND Scotland, who lived at the camp between 1984 and 1990 – said.

"It's a permanent reminder for the people who work there that there are a substantial number of us who are opposed to what they do for a living. Given the limited resources the council has, I don't think most of the local population would agree that it would be a priority for them to spend money on evicting the peace camp."

But last month's demonstration, in addition to the frequent disruption caused by the camp in collaboration with CND and Trident Ploughshares, has encouraged members of Argyll and Bute Council to call a halt. Within the next fortnight, officers from the council will meet with police and military representatives to discuss the "future of the Faslane camp".

"Twenty years is too long for a temporary structure," George Freeman, a councillor who is one of the main advocates of eviction, said.

"The disruption and inconvenience caused to the local residents is too much. The camp is clearly in breach of planning and environmental legislation and so should be removed."

About four years ago the council won a court case to evict the camp from its site, a ruling that until now it has chosen not to enforce. "There was no time limit on the order and the council has the legal right to move against the camp any time it chooses to do so," Mr Freeman said.

But while the events of 11 September have increased fears over security, they have also reignited interest in the peace movement within Britain and support for the camp.

"There are lots of people prepared to come and help us fight off any eviction threat," Zoe Weir, who has lived at Faslane for more than four years, said. Her one-year-old daughter, Tabitha, has never known any other home. "A great many people oppose nuclear weapons on British soil and don't believe the deterrent argument anymore."

The camp claims to be able to muster hundreds of reinforcements within hours using an elaborate system of phone calls, and its defences are continually updated by the inhabitants – 20 men, women and children. Twenty years has allowed plenty of time for the camp – which has become very self-sufficient, with its own solar panels, wind generator, bicycle-powered lighting and wood-burning stoves – to prepare for a long-drawn out battle.

"They will never be able to get us out easily," said Hoosie, who did not give his surname and who has lived in the camp for almost five years, making him the longest current resident. "It will cost at least £300,000 ... They would have to close the main road which runs past the base to get us out of the trees and that would cause massive disruption. They would also need to call in very expensive and highly specialised tunnelling engineers.

"Even then it wouldn't stop us. We would just move further along the road and start again."

Comments