Twenty years on, the peace-loving festival fans still bear the scars of the Battle of the Beanfield

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The Independent Online

It was a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon in June 1985 when a convoy of children, peace activists and travellers made their way to an annual free festival on land beside the ancient ruins at Stonehenge.

It was a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon in June 1985 when a convoy of children, peace activists and travellers made their way to an annual free festival on land beside the ancient ruins at Stonehenge.

The line of vehicles of the 550 people going to Wiltshire led to grassland, next to a bean field where many families settled for a picnic. A few hours later, the convoy erupted into full-scale violence as festival-goers clashed with 1,363 police officers in riot gear. The event, which led to 537 arrests - the largest civil arrest since the Second World War at the time - came to be known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

Twenty years later, many who were there still bear the scars of the bloody confrontation.

Andy Worthington, the editor of a book about the event, called The Battle of the Beanfield, said: "Some of the people were psychologically damaged but for the most part, people refused to be cowed and carried on living the lives they believed they were entitled to."

Some people believe faulty police intelligence led the forces to think the travellers were armed and dangerous.

The protests took place within an area that had been made the subject of an order banning all "trespassory assemblies".

Plans to stop the convoy near the A303 collapsed when a convoy outrider spotted the roadblock and directed the travellers down a side road, where they encountered a second roadblock. After a first wave of what travellers claimed were violent assaults by the police, in which windscreens were smashed and the occupants dragged from their buses and vans screaming, most of the vehicles broke into a neighbouring field, further derailing the police plan.

Assistant Chief Constable Lionel Grundy, the officer in charge, ordered all travellers to be arrested. The final assault came at 7pm, with police in riot gear.

Many witnessed scenes of horrifying violence, with women dragged out of vans by the hair, and vehicles smashed and set on fire. Those who tried to escape the violence by driving through the bean field were trapped by hundreds of police.

All of those arrested were charged with obstruction of the police and the highway, although most did not result in convictions.

Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire, who was then an inspector, said the aggression had not been planned. But he added: "With all the benefit of hindsight, the police operation had not been thought through very well."

Alan Lodge, now 53, was working at the festival as a photographer and a first aid volunteer. He was arrested and held in a police cell for three days. "I was one of a number of people to take civil court action against the police. Nearly six years later at the High Court in Winchester, we won most of our case and were each awarded damages against the police. On the last day, the judge made an order on court costs that, as we were getting legal aid, meant we got nothing.

"We went through the proper legal process to get recompense but while some police officers got promotion, we got nothing. Nobody was told off, there was no inquiry, and 20 years on, some of us remain impoverished by that experience."

'I carried the experience for years after'

Sheila Craig, 50, from London, is a former peace activist. She now works as a freelance teaching consultant and trainee counsellor.

"I still see the total brutality of the attack. It was malicious. We had all travelled there in the spirit of non-violence. People were physically and psychologically wounded, and I carried the experience for years after. I still have the scars. But the scars served a purpose and I became more committed to political, social and environmental change.

My son, who was four, was with me. We were having a picnic. We saw dark figures in riot gear charging down the field. It was unreal. We ran into the bus and they said they'd smash it if we didn't get out. We got out and they arrested us. We were taken to police cells and [later] they took the children, who were screaming. My son was affected by the separation but he is proud to be in the history books. I later joined a squatting community."

'Police slammed truncheons into the vehicles'

Earl of Cardigan, landowner at Savernake.

"With my neighbour, John Moore, a barrister, who also owns a motorcycle, we determined to follow it all. I think we both realised the motorcycle helmet would give us some anonymity, which I was keen on. There was a long period of negotiation, with the convoy asserting their right to go through to Stonehenge and the police saying that was not allowed. After a long period of this impasse, the leading vehicle started its engine and drove through the hedge into a field of beans. Vehicles 2, 3 and 4 followed. Police rushed out on foot, from behind their barricades. Clutching drawn truncheons and riot shields, they ran round to the driver's door of each vehicle, slamming their truncheons into the bodywork to make a deafening noise, and shouting at every driver, 'get out, get out, hand over your keys, get out'."

It was like a scene from 'War of the Worlds'

Kim Sabido, 50, from Birmingham, is a former ITN reporter, now a freelance media consultant.

"I have a vivid picture of the day and its aggression. I was working at ITN. I thought I was going to a gathering of hippies protesting at the gates of a field. When I got there, the police had cut off routes into the field... so I and the crew set off on foot with the camera. We climbed up a tree and over a fence to get into the field. It was like a scene from the War of the Worlds. It was barbaric. I was in a sort of state of shock. I had covered the Falklands War and the hunger strike at Northern Ireland, and I had seen people being shot and beaten. Yet this, in its stark reality, was the most barbaric example of what a so-called civilised state could do to its people. Women with babies were hauled by the hair through smashed windows of their vehicles. The police were banging truncheons on their shields. It was like a war cry."