Greenham campaigner wins damages for arrest: Police and ministry pay pounds 10,000 to woman held in pit at gunpoint

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The Independent Online
A Greenham peace campaigner has won damages of pounds 10,000 from the Ministry of Defence and Hampshire Police for wrongful arrest and imprisonment after a 10-year legal battle. The case may prompt others to sue the Government where civil liberties have been infringed during peaceful demonstrations.

Ms McDonald was arrested in 1984 after walking across the Longmoor military ranges in Hampshire. She was arrested twice, detained in an underground pit and interrogated. She was never told why she had been arrested.

'I was forced into the pit at gunpoint,' she said. 'It seemed to me to be the size of a medium swimming pool, with several layers of coiled barbed wire, and at one end headlights of vehicles shone in it. The surface inside the pit was of wet mud and puddles. I was in there with about a dozen other people for several hours.'

At the time Ms McDonald was involved with Greenham Common Women's Peace Group which was protesting against the presence of United States cruise missiles at the Berkshire base. By the beginning of this year, after 13 years of protest, most of the women had abandoned their camp outside the perimeter fence. The missiles had left two years before.

Ms McDonald was a teacher before she went to Greenham. She now lives in Southampton, and is part of the Nukewatch network, which monitors the transport of British nuclear warheads from Aldermaston to the Scottish submarine bases.

She pressed her case against the MoD with the help of Liberty, which has started a new campaign for the promotion of civil liberties aided by the free services of established city law firms.

Ms McDonald had claimed the actions of the police were arbitrary, oppressive and unconstitutional. The MoD and Hampshire Police finally settled out of court, agreeing damages of pounds 10,000.

The most recent precedent for the award was in 1988 when the MoD paid pounds 2,000 to another Greenham activist after a strip search.

Ms McDonald does not believe that the MoD is any less secretive or any more humane. 'What's changed is that they don't put people in a pit. But their aim is still secrecy. They put us in a pit to try and silence us. And they keep trying,' she said.