31th January 2002
173 Pitt Street
Glasgow G2 4JS
Dear Mr. Rae, Block ’n’ Roll at Faslane 11th to 13th February 2002 You will already be aware of the above event. As is usual before a publicly announced mass action of this sort we have met with the Inspector at Helensburgh, Stephen Gilligan, so as to ensure that the blockade will be safe and that there will be minimum disruption to ordinary citizens unconnected to the base.
Our purpose in writing to you is to register our continuing concern with the policy of mass arrests followed by Strathclyde Police on these occasions. Our clear preference when we blockade these nuclear weapon installations is to be left alone to carry on with our peaceful, open and accountable direct action. While we would welcome the presence of a small number of your officers to help with the traffic management the drafting in of hundreds is entirely unnecessary.
We do appreciate the difficult position the Strathclyde Police force is put in by the existence of the Faslane and Coulport facilities on the one hand and by the widespread public opposition to Trident in Scotland on the other. We can all wish that our elected leaders would honestly face the challenge of that situation. We have also appreciated the skill, humanity and good humour with which the work of policing the blockades has been carried out. When active at other facilities in the UK we always hold up the “Strathies” as a model of how it should be done. At the same time we believe that the arrest policy leads to a farcical position in which the valuable time of the police, ordinary citizens and the courts is wasted.
During filming at the October blockade by a group of students making an educational film Chief Inspector Harry Bunch was questioned about the police role at blockades. He said the usual things about the duty to ensure that people could get about their lawful business. One of the youngsters then asked him: “Would you feel the same if behind that fence there were slave ships loading their human cargo?” To his credit Harry was honest enough to say that he could not answer the question. The point is clear – police have a duty to assess these situations for themselves by ethical and legal norms, not by meekly applying the government line, or by depending on the shamefully flawed judgment of the High Court in the Lord Advocate’s Reference of the trial of the Trident Three.
We need to find some way of resolving this absurd situation. For our part we cannot walk away from the fact that Faslane and Coulport support an actively deployed nightmare weapon of indiscriminate mass destruction. Until that is changed our work goes on. We believe that this matter should be on ACPO’s agenda so that police concerns about being put in this difficult and embarrassing situation can be addressed.
The fact that time and again your own officers have testified under oath in the District and Sheriff Courts that the Big Blockade on February 12th last year was good humoured and gentle in character itself shows that there is no essential criminality involved in the protest. This viewpoint is not restricted to the campaigners. One magistrate, Justice of the Peace Tony Stirling, publicly challenged the mass arrest policy in acquitting Iona Gorringe and MSP Tommy Sheridan. You will also be aware of the scrutiny to which the breach of the peace charge has been subjected, following the High Court ruling in Smith v. Donnelly and as recently as this Wednesday Sheriff O’Brien in Dumbarton Sheriff Court acquitted an activist on a breach of the peace charge, incurred for lying down in the road at one of the gates of Faslane last February, on the grounds that her actions did not cause nor were likely to serious distress and alarm to anyone.
We would be grateful if you would give these points your serious consideration.
For Trident Ploughshares