20th October 2016 found me sitting in the magistrates court in Chester, listening to evidence being given in the trials following the eviction of Upton Community Protection Camp in January of this year.
A lot of time has passed since the days of the protection camp here, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Some people have remained good friends, some have moved on, it was odd, in a sense, to be put back in that frame of mind, it was unavoidable sitting in that court room, to mentally be taken back to that cold bitter day last winter when the camp that so many of us had poured our time, lives and effort into, was ripped away from us by high court bailiffs accompanied by over 200 police from 3 different forces. The good times, the bad times, the structures that had been built, the huts that were peoples homes, the fires we had sat around together, the kitchen, the tea hut, all to be obliterated, smashed into pieces and stamped into the cold wet mud so that the drilling company, IGas, could have us out of their way.
So there we were all sat, all in one room again, reliving that day. Reliving the horror, the bitter sting of rain in our faces masking the tears we were choking on, pushed away along the road by anonymous black uniforms, away from the place that had been our heart-beat for almost two years.
The pain, the despair, our numbness put onto brave faces for the media, the fear that seeped into our hearts about what was planned to come after we had been cleared away. We had all held on for so long….
One story from the trial, just one out of the countless that had been woven together on that field, that lane in the past 20 months was of a young man, a councillor, who had got past the road block and was apprehended on his way to the camp by a PC who described him as walking in a ‘brisk, determined manner’. The councillor explained who he was and that he was concerned for the safety of people on the site, that plans had been changed, that he needed to speak to the Inspector … of course this was denied and the councillor escorted back down the lane he had come from by the PC, back to the roadblock and handed over to 2 more PCs.
During this handover, a low loader lorry passed, with a JCB as its cargo. Destined for the camp to smash defenses and bulldoze the camp flat, and aid in the removal of those who were still locked on there. We all knew what it was for.
The young man, saw an opportunity and took it, jumping onto the low loader and climbing aboard the JCB. The driver of the lorry had seen this happen, and stopped the vehicle, as the young man climbed as high as he could.
Much of the court procedure this morning was about the discourse between the PC and the man on the top of the JCB. This part is what stuck in my mind – the young man saying he stopped the JCB because there were people on the site in tunnels and taking machinery on site would endanger their lives.
Not about heroics for the sake of it, not about being abusive to authority, the conversation was polite throughout. Not even about a personal right to protest, it was about acting as an impulse putting himself on the line for the safety of others
Thats why many of us had been involved, no matter how tired, worn down, frustrated or angry we got over the 20 months of the camps life, we got on with it. We had to. Not for ourselves, as individuals we could easily have sat back or walked away at any time. What held everyone together was that we were doing this for everyone’s safety. For the cows on the farm, the foxes, badgers and other wildlife, for the water, for the thousands of children in the schools within a 2 mile radius who would have to breathe the fumes, for the community of Upton, and Chester beyond. (a small minority of whom would shout at us to get a job, as we arrived at the camp (after work!)) to carry on lifting,carrying, cleaning, building…. 85% of the local community supported us, many of them helped in whatever small way they could, wanting to stop the drill arriving in this one small field, outside one small village outside Chester – for the safety of us all.