Home | Friday 29th January 2010 | Issue 707

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After successfully shutting down the Big Green Gathering (see SchNEWS 685) with political manoeuvrings, and killing the atmosphere at the Stonehenge summer solstice party with sniffer dogs and unmanned drones (see SchNEWS 681), the law are at it again in their War on Fun. After September’s Thimbleberry festival in County Durham, police arrested organiser Andrew Norman on suspicion of allowing his premises to be used for smoking cannabis. They also swiped all the money he had on him - £3513, gate receipts to be used to pay for the festival’s security and toilets - and held it as ‘proceeds of crime’.

According to Andrew the only police on site were undercover cops who had bought their own tickets. There were no arrests. He said during his interview police told him was seen standing next to someone smoking a bifter and he “should have known”.

Police are prosecuting Andrew under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which states if owners or staff become aware of drug use on their premises they have to take ‘reasonable action’ to stop it. The law, which was initially targeted at opium dens, only applies to smoking cannabis and opium. As Andrew said, “If people were jacking up heroin, I couldn’t have got done for that.”

What constitutes ‘reasonable action’ is unclear, but the use of ever more spurious grounds to clamp down on festivals, ‘legal’ or not, is a clear escalation in police killjoy tactics and has been met with a mass show of solidarity from furious music lovers and festival goers.

The band Sicknote have released a downloadable single, all the proceeds of which will go to replacing the three grand the police nicked. Several Facebook campaign groups have started, one, ‘Drop the ridiculous charges against Andy Norman’, already has over 14,000 members. Supporters are also preparing to hold benefit gigs to help fund the legal battle and next summer’s festival, with offers pouring in from local DJs, bands and venues willing to help out.

After not entering a plea in a preliminary hearing in December, Andrew will now appear before Bishop Auckland’s magistrates for committal to crown court on 5th February. He said, “With Professor [‘Office’ ] Nutt [joke © SchNEWS 2010 - the government’s chief drugs advisor sacked for making the radical suggestion that government drugs policy should be based on evidence rather than Daily Mail opinion columns] and everything like that, it’s a political offence nowadays and I’d prefer to be tried by 12 of my peers than two school teachers and a Methodist minister.”

While the charges may seem like jumped up nonsense, if the prosecution succeeds it will pave the way for a full on police assault on the UK festival scene. And while the thought of Michael Eavis being bundled into a paddy wagon might amuse some, it will be the small, independent festivals that find themselves in the dock.

See www.saveourfestivals.com

Keywords: festivals, police, thimbleberry


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