There is little doubt that raves are regaining popularity. But are the police’s heavy-handed tactics making them more dangerous for everyone?
May bank holiday weekend saw the police arrest 43 people at a free party-turned-riot in the market town of Bourne, Lincolnshire.
Police officers claimed to have attended the scene after receiving reports of anti-social behaviour, the BBC reported that the officers then ‘came under attack from several hundred of the 1,000-strong crowd’.
The police maintain the decision to shutdown the event was the right one, after they faced criticism for failing to take action against the event on the same site in 2012.
“We got to the main gathering of sound systems and we were greeted with about 20 riot vans and about 60 officers in full riot gear in front of the speakers,” one reveller, referred to as Matt, told Thump.
“Bear in mind that the reports say 200 out of the 1,000 revellers [were throwing things at officers], which isn’t true, I saw about 20 dickheads in total chucking stuff. This just gave the police a reason to retaliate,” he added.
The organisers of the rave, UKTek, claim the atmosphere was peaceful, until the police came to shut the party down. Only then did it turn from an unlicensed music event into a full-blown riot, the collective claim.
Superintendent Stuart Morrison, from the force, said:
We are happy that the decision to try and close this event was the right one, it was not legal, it was not safe and it caused an inconvenience to people.
This video contains violent scenes that some viewers may find upsetting. (CREDIT: Chris Shaw)
I had a chat with Chris Shaw, a filmmaker who shot the above video and produced this BBC documentary on free parties.
UNILAD: What happened and how did it end up like that, Chris?
Chris Shaw: We got there and it was already happening, I didn’t see the start of it. Luckily I had my camera with me because I was going to take some pictures of the night. I didn’t see who started it, but the police coming in with truncheons and shields is not a very friendly way of going into a party. I imagine tensions went from there really.
From what you saw, how many people were throwing things at the police?
It was a small minority of people. I’d say 200 is too high but it was more that 10 or 20. I’d say somewhere in between that estimate. A lot of people were giving it the big one – shouting and things like that – but there weren’t a lot of people throwing things.
Why did the police crack down so heavily on this particular party?
Because it’s Lincolnshire, there are a lot of parties there. There was a party there two or three years ago in the same location. The police chief got heavily criticised from local residents for not cracking down on it. This time he didn’t want to be perceived as soft. It really depends on the party; if you go to one in Cambridgeshire or Norfolk, for instance, the police will crack down hard and you’re going to get shut down. But if you go to London it’s much more liberal; the police have a lot more things going on.
As someone who’s attended many raves over the years, do you think the police rocking up at free parties makes them more dangerous than they otherwise would be?
Yes. When they come in with truncheons cocked at the ready, that is an issue. If some uniformed officers came and they weren’t all guns blazing, they would’ve had a totally different reaction. When you’re holding a hammer the only thing you can look at is nails y’know?
I saw one guy, the police just came and started beating the crap out of him. There was no provocation or anything like that. There was also a kid on the floor holding his leg and screaming and, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and had the cops all over him.
Gareth Davies, who also attended the rave, told VICE that the cops ‘aggressively stole’ his equipment. He said:
They just took it off us with brute force and came back early on the Monday morning, took the sound system off us, and pushed us all out onto the road.
It was supposed to be a special occasion and [the police] ruined it. They created the violence. We’re fun-loving people, we didn’t want to create violence or have to fight with them.
After already charging 13 people, cautioning six and confiscating thousands of pounds worth of equipment, police in Lincolnshire have now confirmed that they are actively searching for a further 26 people in connection to the ugly scene.
The charges already brought against participants of the event include: violent disorder, assault on police, criminal damage, dealing in drugs, failing to stop for police, and failing to abide by direction to leave.
Last month, a girl attending a free party held in an empty storage space in London, lost her finger while trying to climb over a police cordon.
The local police arrived at the unlicensed event at around 9pm and stopped people entering the venue. Revellers started to scale a 10ft fence which had sharp three-edged metal prongs at the top. In an attempt to gain entrance to the rave, the young woman accidentally ripped off her little finger.
She was not the only one to put herself in danger to access the warehouse. According to the London Evening Standard witnesses described a scene where up to 200 clubbers attempted to climb the dangerous fence when officers blocked off the front gate.
Astonishingly, she is not even the first teenager to lose a finger at an underground party in the capital. Last year, a 16-year-old boy also lost a digit after trying to rip out a fire alarm in a disused sorting office in Croydon.
In March, officers in Wiltshire fought a pitched battle with some people who had attended a local free party throughout the night. According to the BBC, the eight-hour event took place on an industrial estate in Swindon where around 100 people had converged and set up a sound system.
After the dust had settled on that one, five people had been detained – four for public order offences and one for allegedly assaulting an officer. It is understood that a policeman is also under investigation for sexually assaulting a young raver.
It’s only fair, however, to note that not all unlicensed shindigs this summer ended in violence or injury. Last week the Wiltshire Police received a noise complaint for ‘heavy thumping bass’ but could not find their source of the tunes. It turned out that it was coming from an open air rave taking place in a nearby quarry. Five hundred people were there dancing the morning away, there was no reported violence, and the revellers, as they were given the chance, cleaned up after themselves – a far cry from the UKTek incident described above. The press only reported one minor injury: a man who fell over was treated at a local hospital.
So what is it all really about? The police say they must intervene in illegal raves to stop a health and safety breach, but if recent examples are anything to go by, it seems like their tactics can vastly increase the chance of injury.
Thatcher’s iron-clad fist came down hard on the rave scene in the ’90s. The Tories introduced the 1994 Criminal Justice Act which gave police the power to order people to leave a ‘rave’ (legally defined as a gathering of 100+ people listening to ‘a succession of repetitive beats’) or risk being fined, or even imprisoned. What came next was police turning up and heavy-handedly disbanding these otherwise peaceful events. It seems that, as we haven’t really come far since then, people still need to fight for their right to party.