Rave chaos at old airfield
By thisisdevon – 01 July 2002
Police turned away around 5,000 people from an illegal rave on a disused Devon airfield where hundreds more had camped out.
About 150 officers were drafted in over the weekend to stop the revellers, who had been drawn to the area for the Glastonbury Festival, invading Smeatharpe Airfield near Honiton.
And today police patrols were on the lookout in Somerset for travellers leaving Glastonbury and heading to the airfield.
On Saturday night police estimated around 700 people were camped out on the private land near the village.
By this morning there were still around 200 revellers and police were hoping the unofficial gathering would end later today.
They would not say whether they were planning to remove the revellers by force, but confirmed officers were still at the scene and were monitoring the situation.
New security measures at the Glastonbury Festival meant thousands of people, particularly travellers, looked for alternative venues in the South West. Two years ago the festival was overrun by gatecrashers and organisers were ordered to increase security to stop dangerous overcrowding of the site.
This year people without tickets were faced with an inpenetrable security fence and were turned away.
At the illegal gathering at Smeatharpe – which had been advertised on the internet – nine people were arrested for possession of controlled drugs, assault, obstructing a police officer, theft of a vehicle, disqualified driving and drink driving.
A van driver allegedly drove at speed towards a BBC film crew half a mile from the site.
All roads were sealed off but 200 vehicles were parked at the airfield.
Police had to remove six vehicles, including a double decker bus, for causing an obstruction.
They also received complaints from residents about noise and people in their gardens, but overall problems were described as “low-key”.
A police helicopter flew over the site broadcasting a message telling people to leave.
Resident Andrew Longbottom, who lives at Rose Cottage in the lane directly alongside the airfield, feared it might become a repeat of a rave 11 years ago.
He said: “I was here 11 years ago when they smashed all my lorries up. They’ve already ripped the fence down and damaged some of my property.
“Its quite frightening because there is very little you can do to stop them. They are pinching property and pinching fuel.
“And there are definitely drugs. I’ve seen needles strewn all over the fields.
“And then there is the problem with human excrement because there are no toilets.
“The worst of it all is some of them don’t just stay for the weekend. Last time an injunction had to be raised to get them to shift.”
Brenda Brooks, who lives a couple of hundred yards along the road, was also concerned the ravers would get out of hand.
She said: “I do object to them being here. There is no evidence that they are aggressive yet but once they start popping too many pills who knows what will happen.”
Other residents though were less concerned.
Richard Price, who lives 400 yards away from the rave site, said: “It can be a bit noisy but they generally keep themselves to themselves. My only concern is how they leave the site. If they leave it clean I’m happy for them to be here.”
Farmer Keith Sparks, who farms a mile from the site at Churchingford, said: “It feels like we have been invaded.
“It’s all right if these things are organised properly, but this has caught us on the hop.”
Mr Sparks said the travellers had parked their vehicles on the narrow lanes, making it difficult for his tractor and trailer to pass.
Some travellers drove down his private farm lane, cut through a padlock and drove into one of his fields in a bid to get to the site without encountering the police blockade.
He added: “I had livestock in those fields and they left the gate open.
“They had moved an old dung spreader to get through.
“My son and I did not want to confront them on our own, so we asked the police to help.
“I have lived here all my life and remember the last rave, but it wasn’t as serious as this.”
One of the ravers, Jim Thompson, who had travelled down from Bristol and came to Smeatharpe after failing to get into Glastonbury Festival, said: “We’re only here to party and enjoy ourselves. I don’t see why people object. Most of us are peace-loving and we just want a good time.”
Most of the ravers learned about the Devon event on a website. Buzz Pritchard, from Cheltenham, said: “It’s an alternative to Glastonbury and we found out about it on the web. I think the police presence is just making things worse. What’s the point of sealing off the roads when we can just park elsewhere and walk over fields and through rivers to get here.”
Police press liaison officer Sergeant Dave Anning said: “Our primary concern is public safety. There are no facilities or even toilets down there. But over 100,000 people have been turned away from Glastonbury and we want to prevent them using this site as an alternative.”
Police have the powers to remove people from the site under legislation introduced in the 1990s designed to outlaw similar raves and large gatherings.