The Battle of the Beanfield took place over several hours on the afternoon of Saturday 1 June 1985 when Wiltshire Police prevented a vehicle convoy of several hundred new age travellers, known as "The Convoy" and referred to in the media as the "Peace Convoy" from setting up at the 11th Stonehenge Free Festival at wikipedia:Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England after English Heritage who were the custodians of the site persuaded a High Court Judge to grant an wikipedia:exclusion zone of some four miles around the Stones. The incident became notorious as a police riot.[1]

Convoy members reported that after a stand-off of several hours police attacked their procession of vehicles by entering the field where they were being contained, methodically smashing windows, beating people on the head with truncheons and using sledgehammers to damage the interiors of their coaches. The account was supported by all the independent witnesses and upheld by the subsequent court verdicts. The Beanfield was the field neighbouring the vehicles' location; when a large number of police entered the first field, many of the Convoy vehicles tried to escape by going through the Beanfield, where they were pursued and arrested by police.

At the time, the police alleged that they responded after they had come under attack, being pelted with lumps of wood, stones and even petrol bombs. They did not repeat these allegations in any of the subsequent court cases; no proof for any of them has ever come to light. Whilst the full account of events remains in dispute, a court judgement six years later found the police guilty of wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage.[2]

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Background Edit

Main article: Peace Convoy

The Peace Convoy was always a loosely defined organization, and tended to be poorly defined by the media, but roughly speaking, it had been established the year before, when travellers attending the 1984 Stonehenge Festival set off to protest the installation of United States-controlled nuclear weapons at the United States Army Air Force Base at Greenham Common where the Womens' Peace Camp had been established since 1981. The Convoy was the offshoot of that, and comprised of any travellers that joined.

The eventsEdit

After gathering for the previous night in wikipedia:Savernake Forest, the convoy set off on the morning of 1 June. There were between 80 and 120 vehicles, most of them buses and vans that had been converted into living spaces by their owners. In total there were several hundred people in the Convoy, including a number of families.

An exclusion zone had been declared four miles (6.4 km) around wikipedia:Stonehenge and the convoy hoped to breach this, and spend the solstice in sight of the wikipedia:henge. The police set up a wikipedia:roadblock near wikipedia:Shipton Bellinger about seven miles (11 km) from Stonehenge, by tipping three lorry loads of gravel across the road. When the Convoy halted at this blockage, the police allegedly moved down along the line of vehicles, smashing windscreens and arresting the occupants.[1] As a result, the majority of the Convoy attempted to flee by driving through a hedgerow into a nearby grass field. Some Convoy vehicles rammed police vans.[1]

The Convoy found themselves trapped in the field, unable to continue their journey towards Stonehenge, and the police refused to allow them to return to Savernake with their vehicles. There were attempts by Convoy members to negotiate with the police, over several hours. The wikipedia:Chief Constable of Wiltshire, Donald Smith ordered the arrest of all the members of the Convoy, stating that he was convinced that they were intent on breaking the exclusion zone that had been imposed around Stonehenge by the judiciary at the instance of wikipedia:English Heritage.

There were outbreaks of violence in which several members of the Convoy received head injuries. An ambulance was allowed through to take them to hospital. [3]

Eventually the police, many in wikipedia:riot gear, entered the field on foot. This gave the Convoy a couple of minutes notice that an attack was imminent, and many tried to escape in their vehicles, crossing over into the adjacent Beanfield: but travelling over rough field terrain their vehicles were so slow that they were all quickly overtaken by policemen on foot. As a result, almost all of the members of the Convoy were arrested.[2]

Convoy member Phil Shakesby later gave his account of the day:

The police came in [to the grass field] and they were battering people where they stood, smashing homes up where they were, just going wild. Maybe about two-thirds of the vehicles actually started moving and took off, and they chased us into a field of beans.

By this time there were police everywhere, charging along the side of us, and wherever you went there was a strong police presence. Well, they came in with all kinds of things: fire extinguishers and one thing and another. When they'd done throwing the fire extinguishers at us, they were stoning us with these lumps of flint and such.

There were many similar reports from the travellers, which were denied by the police. Most independent eyewitness accounts did, however, relate that the police had used violent tactics against men, women and children, including pregnant women; and purposefully damaged the vehicles used by the Convoy.[4][5]

Official figures said eight police officers and sixteen travellers were taken to hospital with minor injuries. One traveller suffered from a fractured skull.

The miners' strike ended earlier in the same year, and comparison was made with the tactics that were used by the police during the strikes. The news section of the Police Review of June 8 1985 reported "The Police operation had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners' strike were implemented."

There were insufficient holding cells in local jails to hold all those arrested. Convoy members were transported throughout the Midlands and even to northern England. [3] Not all children and parents ended up in the same region.[1] The Convoy vehicles were all towed to a single site where they could be claimed after their owners were released from custody.

Those who had attended the Stonehenge festivals to celebrate the Summer Solstice were not deterred by this incident; if anything, the number of pagan pilgrims grew in numbers in the years following. A pilgrimage along wikipedia:the Ridgeway linking several ancient sites including wikipedia:Avebury took place the following year.

Media coverageEdit

Photographic evidence of the police action is extremely scant. Freelance photographer Ben Gibson, engaged by wikipedia:The Observer that day, was arrested on charges of obstruction. Although he was later acquitted, the arrest removed him from the scene. The Observer later lost the negatives during an office move. [6]

Another freelance photographer, Tim Malyon, was chased from the field by police.

wikipedia:ITN reporter Kim Sabido, recorded an emotional piece-to-camera:

What I have seen in the last thirty minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I've witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. The number of people who have been hit by policemen, who have been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms in coaches around this field, is yet to be counted. There must surely be an inquiry after what has happened today.

When broadcast that evening, the voice-over was removed, as was footage of the more contentious police acts. According to Sabido:

When I got back to ITN during the following week and I went to the library to look at all the rushes, most of what I'd thought we'd shot was no longer there. From what I've seen of what ITN has provided since, it just disappeared, particularly some of the nastier shots.

Some of the missing footage has since been rediscovered, and was incorporated into the Operation Solstice documentary shown on wikipedia:Channel Four in 1991.

wikipedia:Nick Davies reported for wikipedia:The Observer:

There was glass breaking, people screaming, black smoke towering out of burning caravans and everywhere there seemed to be people being bashed and flattened and pulled by the hair. Men, women and children were led away, shivering, swearing, crying, bleeding, leaving their homes in pieces.

The most extensive coverage of all came well after the incident, from Andy Worthington's website: . Worthington went on to also cover the illegal arrest and captivity known as extraordinary rendition (WP) the most comprehensive coverage of the captives at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

Legal actionEdit

After nearly six years, a verdict was given in the court case taken out by twenty-four of the travellers, who had sued Wiltshire Police for wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage as a result of the damage to themselves and their property.[2]

In the main, they were only able to take action against the police force - it proved difficult to pursue charges against individual police officers as none of the riot police involved had been wearing identifying numbers. Despite this, one police sergeant was convicted of an wikipedia:assault occasioning actual bodily harm on a member of the Convoy.[2]

The police radio had been recorded, and was used in evidence against Wiltshire Police. It was to prove inconclusive as there were gaps in the recording at vital points.

The travellers had left from wikipedia:Savernake Forest, land managed by the wikipedia:Earl of Cardigan (wikipedia:David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan) on behalf of his father, the wikipedia:Marquess of Ailesbury. Lord Cardigan decided to follow the convoy on motorbike, together with his friend John Moore.

Lord Cardigan witnessed the events, and later testified in court against Wiltshire Police, saying that he had seen a heavily-pregnant woman being "clubbed with a truncheon." He was criticised as an unreliable witness by several national newspapers. On Monday 3 June 1985, the editorial in wikipedia:The Times even went as far as to state that being "barking mad was probably hereditary", probably a reference to a previous Lord Cardigan's involvement with the wikipedia:Charge of the Light Brigade. Lord Cardigan started legal action against The Times, The Telegraph, the wikipedia:Daily Mail, the wikipedia:Daily Express and the wikipedia:Daily Mirror for their attacks on him, and received written apologies and damages from each.

Lord Cardigan also described how he was approached by the police the following day, who wanted permission to remove travellers who were still at Savernake:[6]

They said they wanted to go into the campsite 'suitably equipped' and 'finish unfinished business'. Make of that phrase what you will. I said to them, that if it was my permission they were after, they did not have it. I did not want a repeat of the grotesque events that I'd seen the day before.

After four months of hearings, twenty-one of the travellers were successful in their case and were awarded £24,000 in damages. The judge refused to award them their legal costs, thereby significantly reducing the amount received.

Their wikipedia:barrister, Lord Gifford QC (wikipedia:Anthony Maurice Gifford, 6th Baron Gifford), stated "It left a very sour taste in the mouth."[6]

Aftermath Edit

The mass arrests were followed by the impounding of the travellers' vehicles, many of which had been damaged during the police charge.

Popular culture Edit

Template:In popular culture

  • British band wikipedia:The Levellers wrote a song about the Battle. "The Battle of the Beanfield" is found on their 1991 album, wikipedia:Levelling the Land.
  • British artist wikipedia:Roy Harper also wrote a song about the events of the day. "Back to the Stones" is found on his 1993 album, Unhinged.
  • British progressive-rock band Solstice wrote a song which comments on the Battle. "Circles" is found on their 1997 album of the same name, and includes what sounds like reporting from the battle, with Kim Sabido's voice-over.
  • The incident is mentioned in the comic book series wikipedia:Hellblazer in issue number 14 when wikipedia:John Constantine happens upon a band of people previously associated with the wikipedia:Peace Convoy
  • Flicknife Records released an album 'Travellers Aid Trust'(SHARP2045) featuring Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Agent Of Chaos,Culture Shock, etc in order to raise money to equip 2 buses as schools for the travellers'children and c/o The Travellers Aid Trust Organisation (

See also Edit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ed. Andy Worthington, 2005, The Battle of the Beanfield, Enabler Publications, ISBN 0952331667
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Hippies clash with police at Stonehenge (1985), BBC News archive Accessed 22 January 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 What happened next? | From the Observer | The Observer
  4. The Battle of the Beanfield, Edited by Andy Worthington Accessed 22 January 2008.
  5. "Police damage to vehicles" BBC article
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 The Battle of the Beanfield, In A Criminal Culture? by Jim Carey, Accessed 22 January 2008.

External linksEdit