Freedom under law at Runnymede?
Diggers2012 and ‘Persons Unknown’ (meaning anyone in the known universe) have been served with court papers. Despite the fact that there are no tents, structures or other items on their land, The National Trust is seeking an order for possession and an injunction prohibiting trespassing from a large area of land (over 200 acres) including parts of the ‘Runnymede’ and ‘Ankerwycke’ Estates (which is managed by the National Trust). The case will be heard in Slough County Court this Thursday, 13th September at 12 Noon.
We currently have no tents or structures on any National Trust land. Our Eco-village is situated on the disused land on the ex-Brunel university Runnymede campus owned by a private housing developer. As such the possession order requiring vacant possession of the land where the NT claim seems pointless. We have no tents on the piece of land that the NT are referring to. What carries greater ramifications is the fact that the NT are also requesting a ‘perpetual final injunction’ (meaning forever) to prevent Diggers2012 and ‘Persons Unknown’ from ‘trespassing further on the Runnymede Estate and the National Trust’s land at Ankerwycke’. The Runnymede Estate is home to the Magna Carta monument, marking the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Consequently Runnymede is regarded as the birthplace of modern democracy. If granted this injunction would allow the National Trust to use ‘reasonable force’ to remove anyone deemed to be trespassing on or around the historic site of the Magna Carta. This is ironic when considering the association of this location with ideals of democracy, limitation of power, equality and freedom under law.
One reason the witness on behalf of the NT gives for requesting an injunction concerns an extract from our website from minutes of a ‘Diggers discussion’ that took place at the Magna Carta Memorial on Saturday 30th June 2012 (page viewable here). The witness statement states: ”On their website, the Defendants have set out plans for a three year occupation campaign to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.” What the minutes actually said was: ”strategic planning to build over the next three years towards 2015 and creating a massive event for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (which has inspired ‘democracy’ and civil rights across the world).” This was an idea to create a grass roots gathering at the Runnymede site in 2015 to celebrate the idea of freedom and civil liberties. It contained no specific reference to use of tents or occupation.
One only has to glimpse at the website setup by the Magna Carta Trust to see that the authorities wish to shape the commemoration of the sealing of the Magna Carta in their image. The website states: ”The 800th anniversary of the sealing af Magna Carta will be a commemoration of national and international significance… a large number of high-profile events are being planned.” Last year it was announced the Queen has agreed to become patron of the Magna Carta Trust for the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15th June 2015. Perhaps the prospect of a rabble of common people turning up at the same time as dignitaries to commemorate the same event has irked the authorities and lead to this legal action. Whatever the reason, the effect of such an injunction if authorized will be to grant the National Trust the power to forcibly remove anyone who they do not want on the land at Runnymede forever.
In the Magna Carta Lecture which took place this year at Royal Holloway University, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, defined law as ”as all those protocols that stop society being run exclusively in the interests of whatever group happens to be dominant at any moment, and that thus guarantee fairness and redress independently of status or power.” Here in Runnymede, where the notion of modern law, justice and equality are said to have sprung from, you could be forgiven for thinking that the law may reflect Rowan William’s definition. And yet the reverse appears to be true. Instead we find a minority of land owning elites hold almost total power of over access to the thing whose life we all depend on: the land.
Those of us here at Runnymede Eco-Village have become quite used to breaking the laws as a by-product of simply trying to live on disused land in a low impact and harmless way. We will carry on doing what we think is just as the primary guide over and above these laws. Stay tuned 8)