I paste below some of the information that has come my way: First, my response to the Mendip Council's letters of justification; then their letters (I put it this way round because I know that life is much too short to read everything laid before us); next,a straw blowing in the political wind, and finally, an allegation about the part played by Stuart Security in the outrage.
We should always compare action taken by the Home Office (Now renamed the "Just-us Department") against the gold standard set in 2000 by the policing of the fuel protests, when lorry drivers closed down the oil refineries in protest at fuel prices. If that had been Greens doing that, we would have been beaten to a pulp, thrown in that state into police cells, and damned by every journalist in the land for recklessly endangering civilisation as we know it.
Being as how the protesters were Daily Mail readers who shared with the policemen and women a deep conviction of that oil is an infinite and side-effect free resource, the police put on their kid gloves before they dealt with the fuel protesters, and the Conservative Party gave them moral support. (Maverick that I am, I wanted the Greens to go out and mingle with the fuel protesters on the grounds that every day a fuel depot is closed down is a day that the planet's imminent fever is delayed).
But I digress. The police, no doubt smarting at the grief they are getting over their outrageous behaviour at the G20, want to get back at the hippies. Over the past years they have been rachetting up the demands and the costs of policing and security for the BGG. This year, in a fit of spite, they have succeeded in closing it.
Success comes in many forms. Some forms involve defeating your enemy, and this time the police and Mendip District Council have triumphed. But such triumphs involve creating a sense of resentment that will find its expression in other ways. Greens are non-violent, which is possibly one reason for the way that the State has been able to exclude us from the political and media process for so long, but we have many ways of exerting pressure on organisations that exhibit signs of gross stupidity when we are minded to do so.
The CEO of Mendip District Council is David Thomson. He was on holiday when the malicious decision to block the BGG was made, and his deputy Stuart Brown was in charge, but the way that these things work. David is your man to complain to.
Needless to say, Mendip is a Tory Council, and their leader is Cllr. Ken Maddocks.
Mendip District Council,
Council Offices, Cannards Grave Road, Shepton Mallet,
Somerset, BA4 5BT
[email removed at boss' request]
Dear [name deleted]
Thank you for emailing me your material regarding the cancellation of the Big Green Gathering.
I would request some questions arising from your FAQs:
1. What historic public safety and crime and disorder occurred at past gatherings? I would like to have a detailed record of these.
2. For what reason did the "important security company" involved with the event withdraw their services?
3. What were the precise objections of the police, ambulance, and fire services.
4. Who is the "etc" referred to in the paragraph titled Did the police pressurise the council into threatening an injunction?
5. What precisely were the "requirements that had to be completed before the event?"
6. Please elucidate the logic in this sentence: "This is not an issue about whether it has been safe... but is an issue as to whether the forthcoming event would have been safe based on the fact that certain requirements were not met."
7. What exactly is the serious incident referred to in this sentence: "if we had done nothing and a serious incident had happened"
8. Re this paragraph:
I would appreciate a full and prompt answer to these queries, in view of the seriousness of the action that Mendip has taken, not just in terms of the inconvenience caused to potential attendees, not just in terms of any stresses caused by other local authorities who will host an unplanned gathering of potential attendees who seek alternative sites to gather, but also to the damage done to the ethos of civil liberty in our nation, as this action will be read in context with the brutal and anti-democratic actions of the police force at the Kingsnorth and G20 demonstrations.
"How much crime and disorder results from the BGG?
This is a policing issue and the BGG spent significant time working with the police on this event."
Is the Council aware that the cost of policing of football matches, outwith the cost of the the police working in the ground itself, is borne by the community charge? Does the same rule apply to the BGG?
Dr Richard Lawson
The following is the statement and FAQ document being put out by Mendip DC in an effort to cut down on the work they have incurred as a result of their ill-considered action.
Following a statement issued by Mendip District Council on Sunday regarding the cancellation of the Big Green Gathering, the council would like to issue the following update:
Following a decision by the Big Green Gathering to cancel its event by surrendering the licence, this has meant that Mendip District Council has not needed to apply to the High Court for an injunction to stop the event.
The failure of the organisers to address a number of serious public safety issues meant that they had no other option but to cancel it themselves.
The fact is that organisers chose to surrender the licence before an application was made to the High Court.
The final decision to prepare legal papers for a High Court hearing was made on Friday evening (July 24), but a court application was not expected to be made until yesterday (Monday, July 27).
In addition to the several months of help and advice they had been given by both us and emergency services, the weekend provided even more opportunity for the organisers to fulfil their licence obligations. However, they handed their licence back to us on Sunday morning (July 26).
Many hours of council time have been committed to help make this event happen, but the lack of assurances from the organisers about the safety of their event were continually causing concern for the council and emergency services.
There has been an apparent lack of coordination in managing and meeting the obligations of the licence, and now the cancellation of this event creates many more issues and a heavier workload for the council and emergency services than if it had gone ahead safely. Mendip is a council which is recognised nationally with its partners for licensing large events.
The bottom line is we know about licensing festivals, and therefore would not have taken a decision to consider legal action lightly. Preparing for legal action is a last resort.
All festivals, no matter how big or small, must go through a strict licensing process with public safety and crime and disorder playing a major part in that process.
A number of untrue accusations are circulating throughout the media and on internet sites. These are without substance.
The council’s decision to pursue an injunction was a last resort. It only considered such action because the organisers did not fulfil their obligations under the licence.
The council recognises people’s frustrations but despite the best efforts of the council and emergency services, the event was cancelled by the organisers because the requirements of the licence were not met.
Following a number of calls and emails to the council regarding the cancellation of the Big Green Gathering, the following frequently asked questions have been compiled:
The seriousness of the concerns meant that despite days of negotiations the organisers had still not complied with some aspects of their licence and other legal requirements connected to fire safety. This amounted to concerns that public safety could have been seriously undermined should the event take place in such circumstances. Therefore the council had no other option but to consider applying for an injunction, which if successful may have forced the event to shut down.
When was the decision made to progress with an injunction?
During a meeting between the council and emergency services at 6.30pm on Friday (July 24). However, the injunction application was not due to submitted until Monday (July 27) which gave the organisers more opportunity to address their licensing issues.
When was the council first made aware about concerns surrounding the licence?
On July 17 we became aware there were serious issues about the licence including the confirmation that an important security company involved with the event had withdrawn their services.
What happened next?
Internal investigations at the council alongside the emergency services flagged up other areas of concern. The organisers of BGG were invited to attend a meeting at the council offices on July 22 to help resolve various issues. Some issues were resolved at that meeting, but a number of issues remained outstanding. The council and emergency services had already arranged to meet with the organisers the following day on-site to ensure the outstanding issues had been resolved.
Who would have granted the injunction?
The council had prepared a case to take to the High Court where a judge would have listened to both sides of the argument and made a decision. There is no guarantee the court would have agreed with the council, but the council felt so strongly about their concerns that it had no other option but prepare for an injunction.
Did the police pressurise the council into threatening an injunction?
No, the council works in partnership with many agencies. This decision was based on advice from emergency services including the police, ambulance, fire etc. Ultimately, as the licensing authority the council weighed up all the factors and risks and made the final decision.
Was the threat of an injunction a political decision?
No, this was purely based on public safety and potential for crime and disorder.
Why wasn’t this issued sorted out sooner?
The council and other agencies have been working closely with BGG since February this year on the licence application, which was finally granted. However, there were a number of requirements that had to be completed before the event. Some of these crucial elements had not been completed.
Does the council not feel that this is a safe and green festival?
This is not an issue about whether it has been safe and green, but is an issue as to whether the forthcoming event would have been safe based on the fact that certain requirements were not met.
Does the council not support the ethos of events such as the BGG?
The issue here is not about the ethos or messages this event wants to send out but about ensuring public safety during the event.
Is the council not victimising this event and those that attend?
Since BGG came to this area a number of years ago it has had significant support from all agencies in planning and running this event. Over the past couple of weeks there has been significant ongoing discussion between organisers, the council and emergency services to try and resolve the licensing issues. The organisers signed up to legal commitments associated with the licence, some of which they failed to meet, and are bound by other legislation.
Did the council not want this event to go ahead from the beginning?
The council strives to ensure that any licence application is considered properly and fairly, but it also works closely with other agencies and organisers to attempt to organise safe and well run events. We realise the potential benefit that large events create for the area and local economy. In short the cancellation of this event creates many more issues and a heavier workload for the council than if it had gone ahead safely.
Has the council gone health and safety mad?
No. However the council has a duty to protect the public from potential harm, and concerns existed due to certain plans not being in place. We realise that the cancellation of this event will be blamed on the council by some and has had a huge impact, however if we had done nothing and a serious incident had happened the council would have been also been blamed for not acting where concerns existed.
All events however well run do have a significant potential for crime and disorder issues, however part of our role is to minimise this effect through proper licensing. We were not satisfied that this event had addressed some of those issues.
Did we have an intention of creating financial difficulties for the BGG?
No. The council would never wish to see any financial difficulties affect any local event or businesses as one of our corporate goals is to support the local economy.
Did the council create problems with the BGG signing up a security firm?
No, we simply needed assurance from the BGG that they had security arrangements in place.
How much crime and disorder results from the BGG?
This is a policing issue and the BGG spent significant time working with the police on this event.
There is another FAQ document in circulation, with responses by one of the BGG team, pasted above in the blog entry 30 July.
Big Green Gathering Shut Down
“It’s political” Chief Superintendent tells BGG Director
Chief Superintendent Paul Richards admitted to a Big Green Gathering Director that the decision to shut down the Big Green Gathering was political and confirmed to the Chair of the Big Green Gathering that orders had come from the highest level.
During a meeting today between the police and directors of the Big Green Gathering, the superintendent said the decision to shut down the BGG was taken over a week ago, confirming the statement from the BGG lawyer that the ‘injunction was a red herring.’
Directors from the BGG are horrified at this partisan interpretation of licencing law. Big Green Gathering Chair Brig Oubridge said, “At the multi-agency meeting on Thursday 23rd July, we were still negotiating with the police and the council under the genuine belief that things were progressing and we were continuing to spend money on infrastructure, wages and security. If they knew they were going to cancel the event, we can only conclude that this drive to increase expenditure appears to be a deliberate attempt to bankrupt the Big Green Gathering.
The injunction served on the Big Green Gathering was primarily addressing the fact that the Big Green Gathering did not obtain the necessary road closure despite the fact that the Highways Agency had previously indicated that this would be done.
The Big Green Gathering has been running an event since 1994 and never before has public safety been an issue. The BGG has an exemplary record on health and safety and crime levels have always been low for the number of people on site.
Despite the concerns over the behaviour of the Council and the Police, event organisers will work with them to ensure the safety of those at the premises and ensure that they leave the land in an orderly fashion. Brig concluded, “We are very aware of our responsibilities to those already on the site and very sad for all those who were coming to enjoy one of the most peaceful festivals in the UK.”This email came from Holly de Sylva
Now, this one. I am not sure of the provenance, let's say "sources close to the BGG":
Mendip Council issued the licence on condition of a road closure. When that closure was applied for it was refused by the Highways Authority of the newly Conservative Somerset County Council.
Mendip Council also insisted on Stuart Security - or at very least it was always a lot easier to get a licence if you hired this particular firm. Stuart Security, worried that they weren't gonna get their money from the BGG were insisting being paid by a given date. The BGG didn't meet that deadline and then decided to hire a different security firm. Probably not the cleverest decision 2 weeks or so before the festie. Stuart Security went straight to the police and said something like
"These guys are dodgy. They've reneged on their contract with us. What can we get them on?"
Stuart Security apparently employ several members of this same police force as security officers.