Of the raids carried out by police the day before the royal wedding, one stood out as particularly strange. As well as squats in Camberwell and Hackney, the Met also chose last Thursday to visit a camp in Sipson near Heathrow airport called Transition Heathrow.
Transition Heathrow stands out because the camp has so little obvious relation to the royal wedding or the protests that have recently caught police attention. The camp is a “transition town”, where the occupants grow their own produce and try to live a carbon free life. It is in part a protest against the proposed building of a third runway at Heathrow, and was born out of many of direct action climate campaigns that have provided some of the most high profile protest in the UK. However, it is also an attempt to provide an example of living differently. By all accounts Transition Heathrow is on friendly terms with its neighbours
, and the camp also has the support of local MP John McDonnell.
Yet on Thursday 28 April, at roughly 7:15, around 40 TSG officers turned up at Transition Heathrow. While 20 of the Met special operations unit battered in the front door, the rest scaled a rear wall. People were woken and the place was searched. Two members of the camp were detained, one cuffed, it seems because they were too slow in getting up.
According to those at the camp, the police warrant said they were looking for items to be used for criminal damage. They didn’t find any, and after a couple of hours the police left having made no arrests.
The targeting of Transition Heathrow seems to back up the police claims that timing of the raids had nothing to do with the royal wedding. Yet it is strange that police would choose to target this location just 24 hours before their biggest operation in years. McDonnell is among the MPs who have questioned the raids in parliament, saying they appeared to be some form of “pre-emptive strike”.
Transition Heathrow resident Joe Rake, 20, says the raid was “pretty bizarre”, and that those living at the camp are “completely baffled about why they chose to raid a community garden”.
However, he says the timing suggests there must be some connection between the raid and the royal nuptials, whether police thought something was being planned at the camp, or were merely using the event as an excuse.
“It’s got to be about the royal wedding, but no one here was talking about the wedding at all before the raid.”
“It was completely disproportionate…yet another example of political persecution.”
Why did the police decide to target an entirely peaceful movement campaigning about the climate? Raids and arrests on protesters planning to make a point while William and Kate got married may be worrying from a civil liberties perspective, but at least they appear to follow some logic. The raid on Sipson suggests that either police intelligence is lacking, or that in the current climate even the mildest signs of dissent are liable to invite police harassment.