Rambler's campaign challenges US bases: Nurse arrested 150 times in rights of way protest

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LINDIS PERCY has walked through the United States listening station at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire 500 times. The 51-year-old nurse has been arrested 150 times in her campaign against the base, which is not marked on Ordnance Survey maps and, she says, blocks historic rights of way.

At York County Court yesterday, in a case which questions the future of US military bases in Britain, she opposed an application by Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, for an injunction banning her from paths which cross the site.

Mr Rifkind, she argued, could not seek the injunction because, although the Crown owned the site, it was the US government, not the Ministry of Defence, which occupied it and, under English law, only the occupier could apply for an injunction.

The question of occupancy has important constitutional implications for relations between Britain and America, the court was told.

Robin Tam, for Mr Rifkind, conceded that if the US government 'unwittingly' found that it was a 'landlord or licenser', it would have to go to court to seek the injunction to bar Mrs Percy from the site. This would compel Washington to surrender the legal immunity traditionally enjoyed by foreign governments which sign treaties with Britain.

'Agreements might have to be renegotiated for all bases where there are US forces stationed,' he said.

Lawyers for Mrs Percy say leaked documents show that the US Department of Defense has leased the site until 1997. The MoD denies this and says that US personnel could be forced to leave 'tomorrow'.

Mrs Percy, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, has gate-crashed a military ball, slept in the base, hung banners from its water tower and followed US staff through code-locked doors into the 'golf ball' domes which house surveillance satellites. Challenged by MoD police, she says she is 'just on a walk through the dales going to look at the orchids in the fields'.

Yesterday, Judge Crabtree referred the case to the High Court in London because, he said, it was 'a state trial' of great public interest. He ordered the MoD to pay Mrs Percy's legal costs.