My first arrest at Faslane was in 2003. Getting over the "arrest hurdle" can be a bit daunting so I thought Why not do it in company? Armed only with a karabiner, secured around my wrist by rope, I took one of the buses from Glasgow out to North Gate at Faslane. The crowd sitting in the gateway had the entire entrance blocked and I spent some time enjoying the relaxed atmosphere but decided I was unlikely to be arrested there. I headed down to the South Gate and, walking up the road to the gate, ran into a group with various props, lock-on tubes etc. Word went around that South Gate was open to traffic and it was decided to blockade where we were, to the consternation of the few police who were in attendance. I found someone to lock-on with and in seconds there was a jolly little group of 15 to 20 people in a heap of arms, legs and tubes complete with police and supporters standing around. Lying in the road was fun as people fed us and gave us drinks, cigarettes and encouragement. A light shower dampened us but it was all in a good cause.
Eventually the "cutting team" arrived and one by one we were removed from the bundle and taken to awaiting vans. I ended up at Greenock and spent a few damp hours in the cells a bit cold but happy to have achieved my first arrest for our cause. In all there were 171 arrests that day and in the end the charges against me were quietly forgotten.
Scotland's a long way from Bristol - but here we are at last, all seventeen of us, more than a little dazed by the seven-hour journey. We scour around and find a bit of floor space in this overcrowded penguin colony, Glasgow's Kinning Park community centre where, in company with activists from all over, we'll spend our first night.
Night falls. We eat good hot vegan food, and drink strong tea. Heart-lifting singing from the group Seize the Day, who have been invited here to entertain us. With my hammer I will break the chain ...
Driving out into darkness next morning, past the Faslane naval base. Miles and miles and miles of mesh and razor wire and steel. A blight on the landscape. A death camp.
Out of the coaches, and streaming up the hill behind others, all heading the same way. My heart thumping now. Are we going to make it to the gate, or will they stop us?
And here we are, in front of North gate, milling about. The gates are shut and guarded. Yellow jackets everywhere. But they're not stopping us being around. People are sitting down. Quite a few have locked on to each other already.
Reeling with tiredness, but on a high with all the music and colourful banners and the cheering and singing. I get a glimpse of the soles of George Gallloway's feet, and of the frenzied media pack hurtling after as the police rush him horizontally to the nearest holding van.
Warned by a copper - asked if I'm going to move. Would you like a biscuit, Inspector? Next thing I know, I'm off the ground and on my way to the nick.
A slow, slow queue for processing, along with lots of other people. A longer wait while the vehicle I'm in fills up gradually with new arrestees. Then we're off. Where to? Dunno. Kilmarnock, I think.
The knowing smile on the face of a policewoman, as I say to her. So if eighty per cent of Scots are opposed to Trident, some of those must be in the police?
Watching Loch Lomond roll by from the back of the speeding van.
The unexpected gesture of chocolate biscuits with our cop shop tea. Real milk, instead of the usual stingy dollop of milk powder. Is someone trying to tell us something ?
An afternoon spent pleasantly enough, in a cell with a 70s-something veteran activist, a middle-aged woman who's in the Scottish Nationalist Party and has a lot of information at her fingertips, and a pleasant young woman with colourful boots. I get to practice the penny whistle quite a lot. The others are tolerant.
A few years later
Flat on my back on the road to South gate, locked on to Sam's wheelchair. Even from this odd position, I note with satisfaction that a lorry has just been turned back up the road. Seems we're effective.
The rest of the space visible to me from my present worm's-eye view is crowded with capering figures. Some carry life-size images of long-necked pink birds. A petite woman in delicate red draperies stands by a tallish figure disguised from head to toe in a rabbit costume.
A legal observer stands by the wheelchair, as the police turn up. His is a kind, reassuring presence. I tell the sergeant where the key to the bike lock round my neck is. At my request, someone threw it in the water. With heavy jesting about whether it's the lock or the loch we're talking about, the police set to work with their cutters, parting me from Sam's wheelchair.
By the time I'm sitting on a bench inside the MoD police station, the cops have rounded up the whole band of Alice in Wonderland characters, the dainty Red Queen and the floppy-headed rabbit among them. (The flamingos, it turns out, were lock-on tubes.) As the whole cast is led into the reception room, it's a comical sight.
Once out of nick, as in past years, we all get the Scottish papers to see what they say. Lots of pictures. Over three hundred arrests, including of church leaders and MPs. Faslane nuclear naval base all but closed for several hours. "Essential" staff had to be brought in by boat across the Loch. English media never cover the Faslane blockade story, but Scotland can be relied on.
So the world - or at least most of Scotland - now knows all about it. Resistance to nuclear madness goes on.
Now comes the long road journey back to the South West - all of us weary, but quite satisfied at having helped make an event happen. When, in half-asleep Southern England will we ever manage similar things?
The return to Scotland for Helensburgh Magistrates' court comes later. Already I know the courtroom will be full of my friends and supporters, and the likely consequence nothing more terrible than a fine. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof??
It's always good fun and a strong message to give to the nuclear weapon establishment that you are willing to spend a day in a cell and sometimes a day in court too for what you believe in.
Being together in an arrest makes time pass quickly and you have support around you. At mass arrest there will be people both inside and outside to take care that no-one will suffer any pain during the day, and that all in the end of the day will have a good feeling of having done something for the disarmament and peace in this world. That takes away all fear of being put behind bars for some hours.
Go for it - and give power to the international solidarity.
I've been arrested about 7 times at Faslane, at least 4 of them for blockading, but have never been brought to court. (Is this a record?) In all those times I've found the police courteous, friendly within their professional code, and often quite helpful. Although I may have benefited from being a grandmother in her 70s, with white hair to make her age very visible, my observation of the police in action tells me that courtesy and patience are generally the order of the day. In any case, probably the police do not want to make any anti-Trident martyrs!
Being in police cells can be incredibly boring. My worst times were when I forgot to bring a paperback with me, but on one of those occasions a WPC kindly provided me with some women's mags. I've nearly always been in a cell on my own, which adds loneliness to boredom. But I always try to remember that loneliness and boredom are shamefully miniscule problems compared to the ones faced by people detained in totalitarian regimes or under apartheid (which of course was totalitarian for blacks).
I've nearly always been with a group, doing a lock-on or a coordinated sit-down , but once I just sat down because someone in the group at my feet said, Come and join us! Being in a group gives you a great feeling of strength and enjoyment. And I'm certainly prepared to be arrested again, group or no group. It may not bring the walls down, but it is a highly practical way to witness for one's belief, and it does help to make significant numbers!
Faslane 2003 was my first ever arrest (discounting that one little one for shoplifting as a teenager).
I was quite nervous even though I traveled with a group. We'd thought out our lock on and practiced it so we were pretty sure we knew what we were doing but the arrest bit itself, and the idea of being cut out were a different matter.
The atmosphere on the morning was amazing, so many people all with the same mindset I'd never experienced anything like it. Everybody was looking out for each other. Both of my arms were locked on so I had no free hands, but people fed me food and drink, and when it began to rain a large canvas/parachute type affair appeared from somewhere and people held it over us so we stayed reasonably dry.
When the police decided to start moving us the atmosphere remained calm and friendly and by this time I wasn't worried about being arrested anymore though the cutting tool operating above my wrist was pretty scary as I could feel the warmth being generated.
It had to be the one time my weight was a real advantage, four big burly policemen had to put me down twice whilst carrying me to the van as my weight was just too much for them.
I shared a cell at the police station with two other women, unfortunately one of them was unwell and was eventually allowed to go sit somewhere else. We talked for a while, then we slept, or I tried to sleep but was far too hyped up so I read instead. The time went reasonably fast, and the police officers were friendly. The food however left something to be desired.
I felt at the same time proud and sort of disconcerted to be arrested for the first time in my 40's. Would I do it again? You bet, though next time we will be bringing cushions to sit on.
The 2003 Big Blockade was not only our first direct action as an affinity group, it was also the first arrest for 4 out of 7 of us. We had spent a hysterically funny couple of days beforehand making lock-ons with a combination of steel chain, chicken wire, plaster of paris and plastic drain pipe. The result was us, and my living room, covered in plaster and a lock on which we had to swathe in plastic bin liners on the day when we realised it was starting to dissolve in the rain.
At the Blockade we locked on with people from Norwich and Stafford on the day (having practised with them the night before). We were slow and disorganised but the police politely ignored us until we were all securely attached to each other. After 6 hours of being locked together in a wriggling heap, getting utterly drenched when the heavens opened and getting sunburnt the rest of the time, we all knew each other very well. (In fact we've continued to work with each other since then).
When the police got to us they cut everyone off individually rather than deal with the central lock-ons (although I gather that they did cut the final one in half and it took 20 minutes and gained their compliments). They were careful, and chatty and took over 1 1/2 hours to remove us all. Some of us ended up in individual cells and others in threes but we were all released that night. My only complaint was that they didn't have any vegan food available so I didn't get fed.
As for the aftermath: one of us pled guilty, one was found guilty, one was let off because the police mixed up their witnesses, another got let off because one of her police witnesses had moved to Spain, one had her case canceled because her co-defendant kept not being available for court, and I turned up only to be let off because the Prosecution had forgotten that he was going to have my case that day! Surely they'd have saved time and money by not prosecuting. However, logic has never been a strong point for this government.
It was a wonderful first action - we had a great time, became a real affinity group, and have since done other actions together.
There have been 4 blockades of Faslane since 2000 where significant numbers of Irish people have participated. In February 2001, 70 Irish people joined 1,100 others in blocking the North and South gates of Faslane. 350 of the 1,100 were arrested including 31 Irish. The arrested included George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan and Caroline Lucas. The blockade would have started about 7am. All of the Irish were arrested by 10am and taken to various police stations around Glasgow. All were released by 6pm that evening. One group had the misfortune of being strip-searched. They were sent to a police station which had not originally been on the list of destinations for arrestees but was asked to help out due to larger than expected numbers of arrests. The Scottish police subsequently apologised for this incident which broke their established protocol of how to deal with arrested anti nuke protestors. All of the Irish arrested gave their home addresses to the police. In the aftermath most got letters saying they could pay a £50 fine by post and thus have no record or face the possibility of prosecution and record if they did not pay. Some got no letter while others got no choice and were given court dates. Most paid the £50. Of those who went to court some got off while others had to pay £200 fines.
In October 2001 70 Irish joined about 700 others in another blockade. Numbers seemed to have gone down after September 11. About 10 of the Irish were arrested for sitting on the road including Patricia Mc Kenna. 8 of these were attached together with drainpipes and chains which took the police 30 minutes to cut through using the tools doctors use to take plaster casts of people without cutting them. In the lead up to this blockade the word was out that all non-UK nationals that were arrested would be held overnight and brought to court the next morning. As such, all Irish arrested adopted the tactic of giving UK addresses. The address cited would have had to have had someone willing to answer the phone to confirm that the Irish person lived there. Thus all arrested were released by 7pm that evening. Of this group some were subsequently summoned to court while others heard nothing. Those who ignored summonses may have a warrant for their arrest in Scotland though this is not likely as in order for this to happen their names would have had to have been called out in the district court at Faslane and the Trident Ploughshares/Scottish CND would have heard about it and passed on details. Those who attended court got fines of up to £200 while one person got off giving a spectacular defence that he had been raised to be anti nuke and as such was only doing what he believed to be right.
In February 2002 about 25 Irish attended a 3 day blockade of Faslane. The main groups engaged in the three days of action were the Irish group, a Swedish group and the Belgian For Mother Earth group along with some Scots people. Some of the Irish arrested did indeed stay overnight in the police stations and went to court the next morning to avoid future hassles with court summonses, paid their fine and walked free.
A further blockade took place in April 2003. About 15 Irish went and again there were a few arrests.
Quarter to seven on a gloomy September morning. We file quietly onto the road that leads to Coulport Naval Base, where the nuclear warheads for the Trident submarines are stored. Each pair carries an a length of arm-width plastic tubing between them, karabiner clips at the ready. The tubes are dubiously hidden within sandwich-board style placards so we've fingers crossed against meeting any MOD police patrols.
Nearly there - and we're hoping that the police at the gate will assume we're merely another banner-waving vigil - but they're not that easily fooled and block our path.. We sit down and try to clip together between pairs but one of the tubes gets yanked away from us.. This means that we have a group of 4 and one isolated pair. But we look around - we are more or less blocking the road and the traffic is stopped. Yes, we have a blockade!
The police inspect our tubes and manage to undo one of the screws through the shorter tubes and unclip my partner's karabiner. But I hang tight onto my end so the screw jams and they leave me with the tube, lying by myself on the ground expecting to be hauled away any moment. But, the arm on the other side is looking for a tube to grab into, so - much to the chagrin of the police - we manage to join up. Now we are 2 groups of 3.
We hear from our supporters that the other entrance is blocked by a tripod. Hoorah! 'Don't know what you're so pleased about, say the police, there's only one person up it?' Duh - how many does it need?. Then they tell us we may as well unclip because they'll have us out anyway within 15 minutes and if we go now they won't arrest us. Oh, temptation! But we check out with everyone and the group consensus is to stick it out.
Cars are being ushered slowly through the gap on one side - oh for an extra person - but the buses are forced to disgorge their passengers who have to walk into the base. As they file past we urge them to look for better employment than servicing weapons of mass destruction.
Then one of our trios seizes advantage of a distraction and wriggles sideways to block the remaining gap so no traffic at all can flow.
We can't see what's happening on the approach roads - the police have erected screens around us - but we hear afterwards that the traffic was backed up as far as our camp.
An hour or so later (so much for their 15 minutes) the cutting gear is brought out. The police first warn us and formally arrest us. Their blurb advises us to consider our reputations and what our families will think. Are they kidding? Our families would be sorely disappointed if we weren't trying to prevent nuclear crime.
The thinnish drainpipe plastic yields fairly quickly to the rotary cutters. The thicker blue water pipe takes much longer and if we'd had even thicker yellow gas pipe that would take longer still. As would steel pipe, though the drawback with this is its weight.
Mindful of health and safety (never mind the nuclear warheads behind the fence!) the police shield us from any flying fragments and we remind them to wear their goggles too. Once we're cut out and unclipped we're asked if we'll walk to the waiting minibus. Some of us do, some don't and have to be carried there.
But eventually we're all bundled in and taken along to Faslane, to the police unit inside the base. There we meet the dangler from the tripod. He's in the holding cell one side, us women on the other. We shout encouragement, share out remaining food from our pockets, and do some yoga and jump about to warm and loosen up. And we get a cup of tea.
The processing takes ages. We're searched, have our possessions bagged and sealed, are fingerprinted, photographed and have DNA samples taken. We get self-heating cans of vegetable curry for lunch and aluminium foil blankets in case we get cold but which make us crackle like oven-ready roasts. We sing songs and tell jokes and get taken one by one for interview with two very charming ladies who belong to the CID branch of the MOD and who have come up from England specially for the camp. They ask us what other groups we have links with and we tell them that, for a substantial donation to funds we will spill the beans on everything that's already on the Trident Ploughshares website.
Eventually we are taken back to the desk officer to be charged, and to get our stuff back, and invited into the minibus to be taken to the bus stop outside the front gate where our own transport is waiting to take us back to camp.