March 22, 1996
The complaints officer
Newbury Police Station
Third Battle of Newbury
FoE, Sterling Industrial Estate,
Kings Road, Newbury.
I was in PenWood watching the eviction of a camp known to me as 'Manic Shea' (it is in area 2/1 of the highways agency map,) approximately 500m south east of PenWood Lane, on Monday 18th of March between 3.30 and 4pm. I witnessed an act by Sherriffs Officers that I considered to endanger the life of a tree protestor known to me as Nick, in that a Sherriffs officer cut a steel walkway without warning and deliberately shielding the cut from the protestors in the trees. This steel walkway was Nick's only support and when cut resulted in his fall. Fortunately he was able to grab a thin branch that by a miracle was strong enough to hold his weight although it was bent down parallel to the tree trunk under the strain.
I have been observing as clearly as possible the work of the contractors and Sheriffs officials and the actions of the protestors since January 10th 1996. I first saw Sherriffs officers cutting walkways that were supporting protestors at the first eviction on Thursday February 29th, at Snelsmore Common, south of Wantage Road. On this occasion the Bailiffs clearly signaled their intention of cutting the line and giving the protestors some time to move to safety. Since then I have seen this tactic employed by Sheriffs officers in the cherry - pickers and the rope access climbers. Over the weeks this has become standard practice and thus has become expected by the tree top protestors.
I am very alarmed by what I witnessed in PenWood. Not only did this act endanger the life of one tree top protestor but I feel that it was very provocative. I am sure that the police are as aware as I am of the potential for serious public disorder if the non-violent protestors are provoced beyond endurance. As a direct result of this incident I saw baked bean can being thrown out of the trees, this is the first time I have seen projectiles used by protestors and I consider it to be a distressing escalation. I would like to assure you that my main concern is that this protest passes off as peacefully and as safely as possible for all those concerned. I am sure that this view is shared by the Police.
Therefore I would urge the police to hold an immediate enquiry into this incident. There were many Police at the scene and Police video recorders. I find it incredible if none of them witnessed this incident and I am alarmed that no action has been taken by the police so far.
DATE......19th March 1996
Between 3.30 and 4.pm I was standing at position A (see diagram). I was standing on a mound of earth that gave me a clear view over the heads of the security guards. I had been watching the eviction of 'Manic Shea' camp all afternoon and had been very impressed by the climbing skill of a protestor known to me as 'Nick' who was clinging without a harness or safety rope. He had crossed the walkway from tree X to tree Y then to tree Z and back to tree X where he had evaded all attempts by the Sherrifs overseers in the cherry picker and the climbers to capture him. His skill and climbing style I thought very similar to that of Mr Ben Moon - Britains top climber that I had witnessed in the eviction of Gotan camp North of the Wantage Road, Donnington on Tuesday 12th March.
At the time of the incident that I wish to report, trees Y and Z had been emptied of protestors and all walkways had been cut except for one steel cable linking tree Z and tree X. There were approxomately 11 protestors still in tree X. All rope access climbers were on the ground. One cherry picker was in the position shown on the diagram. It contained 2 Sheriffs officers, I couldn't read their numbers from that distance. Nick was in position B standing on the steel walkway at the very edge of the tree where the branches were very thin. He was holding with one hand a very thin branch for balance. It could not have supported his weight. I watched the Sheriffs Officers in the cherry picker, they seemed to be assessing the situation observing Nick and talking amongst themselves. There can be no doubt that they had clearly seen him and his position. Suddenly they moved to the part of the 'cage' nearest the tree with their backs turned to me and to the people in the tree thus blocking their actions from view. I wondered what they were going to do. I became suspicious that they were about to cut the steel cable. I looked at Nick and saw that he had his head turned from the cherry picker and seemed to be engaged in conversation with a person in the tree. Then I saw the steel cable kick back, as a cable does when it is cut under tension, and Nick started to fall. He grabbed at a very thin branch and held it. He was swung back towards the centre of the tree until the branch was bent parallel to the main trubnk. The branch held his weight.
I heard a roar of angry protest from the other people in tree X, as the cherry picker started to approach tree X I noticed several projectiles thrown out of it that I later learnt were full unopened cans of Baked Beans. The cherry Picker retreated and eviction work ceased for the day. Trees Y and Z were then felled by bull-dozer. Work stopped at 4pm.