Sniffer dogs at Stonehenge summer solstice
By Jo Moss
Edited by Gemma Phelan
Surveillance in this area is not uncommon as security services have been known to use small aerial drones with a video camera to patrol the site. As a result of which, many peaceful individuals find themselves accosted by police and security mobs. It is reported that 21,000 people attended this year’s event at Stonehenge, with 22 people taken into custody mainly for drugs offenses, which is more than double the estimated 10,000 people who peacefully attended the 420 Cannabis Smoke out in Hyde Park, with little or no police supervision and zero custodial arrests.
Historically there have been conflicts between the police and revellers. In 1985 we saw the infamous Battle of the Beanfield, 1st June when ‘The Convoy’, a group of new age travellers attempted to create the 11th Stonehenge Free Festival. This incident earned notoriety for the behaviour of the police in their effort to enforce the English Heritage exclusion order. Eventually, in 1991 some of the police were found guilty of wrongful arrest, criminal damage and assault.
On a more pragmatic note, surely the use of sniffer dogs, the police and private security firms at the solstice celebration could be seen as a massive waste of resources, socially oppressive and out of touch with the spirit of the event ? In fairness, many of those who make the pilgrimage do so whilst high, although in recent years the trend has moved towards alcohol highs, more drunken lurching and postulating, rather than people sharing the love of the moment. From the evidence so far it appears that the reason behind increased surveillance has little to do with ensuring social order but rather to increase detection rates, with a string of easy targets being shepherded their way. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the cost of processing each case would be covered by subsequent fines, so it is not a cost effective measure or for any real purpose it appears other than to disrupt those who are not disrupting anyone else. At this point we need to ask whether possessing a substance for personal use which has been prohibited and regulated without scientific evidence is a punishable crime or even worthy of the minimum of police time and manpower that is regularly thrown at it.
There are many events where one finds a drug’s amnesty bin at the end of one filter, and drug detection dogs at the end of another, which offers the choice to risk criminalising yourself or not. This year at Stonehenge however no such option existed, instead everyone went through two (yes two!) bag search checks by private security guards checking for glass bottles. I hasten to add, that I was not detected by the dog, unlike the person in front of me. However, without the figures from their detection rates last night, as to quantities and types of drugs seized, it is difficult to ascertain, but it appears that the majority of detections were for small amounts of substances that were intended for personal use only. What a waste of police time, no victim, no crime!
A report published in May 2012, which was based on Freedom of Information Act requests stated that drugs with a street value of circa 101k had been confiscated from festival attendees at 10 different events across the UK during 2011. In light of this information, it would be interesting to know what the cost of security had been … perhaps more than 101k?