Monday, July 24, 2006

There's a party somewhere

I'm not much of a raver; actually I've never raved in my life, with the possible exception of a couple of hours at a hotel near Preston, one night in 1988. (I was there for a systems analysis course. I said I wasn't much of a raver.)

All the same, I remember smiley-face music, and I remember how things heated up a few years later, with the CJA and 'repetitive beats' and so forth. So I probably shouldn't have been too surprised by this:
Police are desperately trying to find out details of a "mega" illegal rave expected to take place in the coming weeks, as forces across the country begin to report a significant resurgence in the free party movement.
Forces admit there has been a surge in activity, including one party in north Cornwall that was attended by more than 5,000 revellers. Officers are warning landowners and the public to be on their guard after receiving intelligence that large raves may be being planned for weekends in August, particularly over the bank holiday.
On a national level forces are working hard to make sure they share information about raves in the pipeline. Thames Valley police is using Asbo legislation to try to take out prolific rave organisers, while police in Norfolk, another rave hotspot, this week urged landowners to make sure ravers cannot get access to prime party sites.
Over May bank holiday this year hundreds of VW and custom car fans headed to Newquay in north Cornwall for an annual Run for the Sun rally. The police did not notice that among them were many hundreds much more interested in sounds systems than air-cooled engines. Officers watched helpless while as many as 5,000 people partied at a well-organised but illegal rave on a disused airfield at Davidstow, near Camelford. Once thousands of people are on site the police tend to monitor and contain the event rather than try to break it up.

In other parts of the country police have managed to stop big raves. One which had attracted as many as 2,000 people in Northamptonshire was halted; a week later Avon and Somerset police got wind of a planned rave at an old firing range and managed to blockade it. Chief Inspector Richard Baker of Devon and Cornwall's contingency planning unit accepted the Davidstow rave had not been on the police's radar but said the force was now better prepared. Intelligence specialists were monitoring websites and party phonelines to try to pick up word of further free parties and festivals.

But I was mildly surprised, not by what's in this story so much as what's not there: any reference to why the police are so keen to stop people dancing on airfields. The last time things were kicking off, I'm pretty sure that the news coverage was all about how dangerous these scary new wild parties were: the neighbours would be deafened, the sites would be left knee-deep in litter, the countryside would be trashed... As for anyone foolhardy enough to actually go to a rave, they'd be lucky to escape with their lives, what with the dangers of being crushed, trampled underfoot, overheated, dehydrated or unknowingly taking a lethal cocktail of drugs. As time went by it became clear to anyone who bothered to look into it that the organisers of free parties were generally pretty responsible when it came to trashing the environment; that remarkably few people were getting crushed trampled overheated, etc; and that even the drugs people were taking were, by and large, non-lethal. But by that time the legislation was in place and the scene had gone into an enforced decline.

So it's not entirely surprising that, faced with a new wave of rave (sorry, please nobody use that), the relevant police forces are ready and waiting to stop it in its tracks. What is interesting is the absence of any kind of justification - or, in the case of our man at the Guardian, any sense that there ought to be some kind of justification - for these operations, which seem to be a fairly massive clampdown on activities which don't appear to be doing anybody any harm.

Of course, there are laws against raves, passed by the Tories in the mid-90s (with the assistance of the then Shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair). It'd be understandable if the police were making a case for impartial law-enforcement (we don't have opinions about the law, sir, we're just here to make sure it's obeyed), although obviously there would be room for arguments about priorities. But what's going on at the moment appears to go further. Note the reference to anti-social behaviour:
Thames Valley police is using Asbo legislation to try to take out prolific rave organisers
According to the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act (which introduced the ASBO), 'anti-social behaviour' equals behaving 'in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household' (emphasis added). Picture yourself a rave organiser up before the court. How do you fancy your chances of persuading a magistrate, not only that your activities were not illegal, but that they were not likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress?

I'm old enough to remember acid house; I'm also old enough, just about, to remember this. It looks as if that's where we're heading.


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