Protesters trespass at PM's home

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The Independent Online
Protestors against the Criminal Justice Act yesterday confronted riot police just yards from the Prime Minister's country home at Chequers, writes Danny Penman.

The mass trespass next to the house was part of a campaign against the Act to try and prove it unworkable. About 700 demonstrators marched on Chequers, claiming they wanted to exercise a right to walk along a public footpath running through the Chequers estate. As the protestors crossed a drive leading to the house, they were met by a line of about 30 police officers blocking their path.

The demonstrators moved further down the path to outflank the officers as police reinforcements were brought in to protect the estate.

About 500 protestors then charged on to land west of Chequers, where they were met by two dozen mounted officers. The protestors again outflanked the police, who were redeployed along the inner defences of the estate.

Several hundred officers, many wearing riot equipment, spread out to protect the country house. After being outflanked once again, the police pushed the protestors away from Chequers - but at one stage they approached to within 200 yards of the house.

However, after a brief stand-off, a line of about 200 police - two dozen on horseback - pushed the demonstrators away from the house. The crowd then began slowly to disperse.

Chief inspector Laurie Fray, spokesman for Thames Valley Police, said the operation, which cost £100,000, had gone well. "They strayed from the footpath, which is what we expected them to do, had their little protest and went home."

Weyman Bennett, national organiser of the Coalition Against the Criminal Justice Act, was also pleased. He said: "We've succeeded in occupying John Major's garden. This mass trespass has shown what a farce the new law is and how unenforceable it is.

"Today was a symbolic gesture, but we are making it clear that this Act has got to be repealed."

John Major was not at Chequers yesterday.