Introducing Exodus - Six-part Special - Pt. 3
Riding The Blows
EXODUS - The Battles
Squall 8, Autumn 1994, pp. 42-46.
"They try and kill our momentum. They tried to starve us with injunctions, to stop our income coming in, by stopping us playing Beds county. They brought all these charges against us for more than a year - that slowed us down. They were thinking - 'Nobody's gonna come back to Exodus'. But they didn't understand that these free parties were more than that. It's not just a party, get a crowd then they disappear. It's more much more than that. We knew that we were making a stand, making a challenge - we knew the law was coming and they came." - dread Bigs, member of Exodus.
The police raids carried out against the Exodus Collective read like a shambled military campaign. Operation Anagram followed by Operation Ashanti and Operation Anatomy, and then Operation Anchivoy which was a repeat of Operation Anatomy. After the Exodus Collective discovered these codenames, they twigged to the fact that their alphabetical consistancy had much to say about the co-ordinated and intentional campaign against them. An embarassed Bedfordshire Police had always made out that there was no designed anti-Exodus campaign but chose neither to comment on the names given to the known operations, or on the names given to the first two operations against the Collective that are still unknown. Perhaps Artichoke, Arsenal or Attitude Problem?
"That's one of the key things. If we're gonna be massive and passive, then we've gotta take that shit. Let them launch their operations and we'll take it and not make one police complaint," said dread Bigs, a long time Exodus member.
For a while Exodus allowed the scheming to go on absorbing it, dancing round it, recording it. "The year of the smear" is how Glenn Jenkins, an Exodus spokesman, describes it. Involving the local papers, the police, freemasons and local politicians including John "banish all gypsys into the wilderness"Carlisle (Con MP Luton North). Encouraged to be more blatant by their underestimation of Exodus' staying power, the Bedfordshire police have a long and now court documented history of unlawful harassment against the Collective.
"They thought they could do anything to us," recalls dread Bigs. "It was a local force - they bullied us about and cause we made no complaint, they thought they could write shit on us. They thought: 'whose gonna believe them even if they do complain'. And that's what happened but then we came back."
The 'come-back' was facilitated in two ways. Firstly, despite the continuing and extreme attention they were receiving from the police, the Exodus Collective carried on working. Repairing derelict buildings for housing projects, turning the squatted farm derelict into a working city farm open the the public, and organising well attended raves at which no one got hurt but about which everyone talked about. In persistant pursuit of 'community regeneration', their stated goal, Exodus won over large amounts of local support and enough members of the local council to start swinging licence agreements their way. Even certain members of the local police force, particularly Chief Inspector Mick Brown and Inspector Kimble, began to speak out publicly in favour of Exodus and of the positive intiatives they were operating in the locality. Brown was tranferred away from the area accordingly and even now Exodus are negotiating for his re-instatement as a "men we can talk to". This groundswell of local support gave Exodus an even stronger back at a time of maximum attack.
Secondly, no matter what was thrown at them, Exodus stood up to it - "massive and passive".
"They blocked the A1(M) on us one time and tried to nick Glenn," remembers dread Bigs. "Twenty one police cars come off the junctions and pulled him over on the hard shoulder saying they wanted to do a drugs search. Then a copper grabs his arm. We had a convoy and I don't if they knew that we did because on the motorway you can't always tell. But they blocked the motorway and we blocked the motorway. They got their dogs out and we got our dogs out. Then an inspector comes over and says: 'Sorry, it was a mistake'. Blocked the motorway for 20 minutes and then says: 'Go through'. It was a stand off and they were outnumbered."
What makes these showdowns so decapacitating to the police is that the Exodus Collective do not give the hangman even an inch of rope. Despite hundreds of police charges levelled at members of the Collective, the conviction list amounts to a couple of small bits of hash possession and a farcically engineered public nuisance rap put on Glenn Jenkins. Secondly, despite very evident police attempts to provoke the kind of confrontation that might provide the hanging rope, the Collective have always "held it down massive but passive."
"One time at a warehouse in Letchworth, there was a thousand ravers from one convoy hanging about waiting for the other convoy and the sounds. I was out on the street keeping an eye on things, stopping people driving too fast. Then blue lights are coming fast....coming fast. What they were going to do was drive into the warehouse and scatter everyone. I reckoned I had to block it, so I drove at them and spun the jeep round. Didn't even have enough time to take the keys out and their car doors were open. Out run four of them, scattered and coming for me. I ran back to the warehouse. "Then the line was drawn, about one thousand police and two thousand ravers. There was a few people throwing things because we couldn't be everywhere but we held it down. Going up to riot squad - trying to speak to them but they weren't speaking. It was tense man. Glenn told them that if it goes off, it was them that was gonna get hurt 'cause there are people who've been beaten up on the street by old bill and been busted - there is that anger - but it's controling that anger. We've got that control. It was tense but we got the loudspeaker and dispersed everyone."
"Hold it down became the password for the party, now everyone knows its best to hold it down," continues Glenn. " People have got that respect for what we're doing and in all physical confrontation we are the ones that would be accused if it kicked off big time, not the old bill."
Undoubtedly the most formidable example came on the night 52 members of the collective were arrested at around 8pm on the night of a dance. Four thousand people surrounded the police station in Luton demanding their immediate release. In the national papers the following day came the descriptions of "a mob of 4 000 youths who turned a town into a pitched battle" (Daily Express 1/2/94) but in reality it was one of the largest localised demonstrations of "massive but passive" force yet seen in modern Britain. Captain, a long time member of the Exodus collective, remembers the occasion well:
"I went in round the back of the police station to get my kid out - he was only 15 years old at the time. There were about 150 coppers in that station and 4000 people outside, they were cacking it, ringing for more riot police even calling the army. In the foyer of the police station, Inspector Brown says - 'Please help us'. He'd always been alright to us but I said I didn't like the idea of being double crossed. I said - 'you got it coming to you if it kicks off because you've just arrested everybody for nothing'. He says to me - ' he didn't know about it 'cause the people upstairs hadn't told him that the arrests were gonna be made.
"When I walked out the front everyone went wild going 'Yes Captain, Yes Captain'. I could see the faces of the riot police behind me, thinking - 'is he gonna say Attack'. So it was my opportunity to get everyone to hold it down - keep it peaceful other wise its gonna kick - go to the other side of the road and get the car stereos going and start a party. A few bottles flew over me to start with but our peace stewards were going round holding it down." And it held. Later that night, after reaching an agreement with the police for the release of their members and of the return of the confiscated sound equipment, members of the Exodus Collective asked all but ten of the crowd to disperse. The respect was instant and the demonstration duly stood down."Even the coppers the next day were saying they couldn't believe we had picked the rubbish up before we had left," adds Glenn.
The crowning legal triumph came in an almighty court battle that dragged out over the period of more than a year. In court on the day of the major showdown, the Exodus Collective finally proved to judge and jury that they had been the subject of unlawful attacks by the police, involving the fabrication of written evidence and the planting of illegal substances.
"I was arrested at a petrol station on the night of a do at Letchworth and taken to the station," recalls Chuppa, who was driving an Exodus jeep containing the water for the dance. "When I got there they asked me my name and I said you know my name, and the copper wrote down Paul Taylor. When I tell them that I'm not Paul Taylor, I'm Kevin Brown, she gets all agitated and walks out. Then when she comes back, she doesn't ask me anymore questions not even my date of birth, just sticks me in a cell."
Undoubtedly mistaking dread Chuppa (Kevin Brown) for dread Bigs (Paul Taylor), the police had picked out the wrong man in an attempt to foil the party. "They think if they take out one of us then the party wont happen but it aint like that with Exodus," says Chuppa.
The man that the police had been trying to 'take out' was dread Bigs, whom they had identified as driving Exodus's red starred jeeps at the head of convoys in the past. But instead of going into hiding, Bigs came looking to see that Chuppa and another arrested member of the Collective were alright. After being chased by 1000 riot police drawn from 5 different forces (previously described), Glenn Jenkins, Richard Jenkins and Bigs drove another Exodus jeep straight into the hornest's nest.
"The streets around the police station were crammed with riot vans parked either side on the pavements. And there we were in the red starred jeep, the ones they'd been chasing all night, driving down the middle of the road between them. You should have seen the faces of them coppers as they were taking their riot trousers off," recalls Glenn.
The three of them walked into the police station and demanded to see that Chuppa and his colleague had not been injured. Whilst they waited, a policeman asked Bigs to step aside for a moment. The next thing that Glenn and Richard Jenkins were told, was that Bigs had been arrested and charged with possession and intent to supply ecstacy that the police claimed to have found during a raid on the farm a week previous.
"Chief Inspector Alan Marlowe the divisional commander hung his head low when he came down the stairs and told me," recalls Glenn. "He knew it was lie, he knew it was a fit up. I told him they were slimy bastards and that we would not let them get away with it."
Just how exactly the police thought they would get away with it is a mystery. The only plausible answer is that the complacency bred from getting away with it for so long, induced a carelessness that proved in the end to be their downfall.
Over the course of the next year, Bigs had a drugs rap hanging over his head. During a period of that time he was curfewed as a bail condition, an obvious attempt to prevent him from attending the dances. On the night of the parties, the police would invariably call round to check that he was staying at home, but at a late hour the party crowd would go mad when a certain dread rapped in a sheiks head scarf, would appear on stage.
Over the course of that year, the Collective pieced together the story of how, within two minutes of entering a blacked out farmhouse (the operation start time and the discovery was logged in various police accounts), a policeman had found two stashes of drugs in two seperate places.
"It's too easy- first they desanitised the house (police terminology for making sure there are no occupants left in the house). The officer who said he found them (the drugs) was outside the bungalow in a car waiting. I don't know how innocent he was but DC Clements had already planted them and then came out and called him in. It was dark because the electrics were cut and Clements says in his statement that he was holding the torch. Clements pointed this big dragon torch to the places cause he was the only one holding a torch. It's so sly - how many times do they get away with it. It's a classic - two minutes in two different locations. One with my passport, dole card and a couple of mug shots, and one in a coffee tin which, if you were to walk into my bedroom, you can't help but notice."
On the night before the trial, Bigs, having seen a police list of the small bits of hashish the police had found on the farm in the past, realised their next chess move and decided he would not stand to give evidence in his own defence in court.
"We saw in the case papers that they had it listed and we thought 'how come they got it all listed - a bit of vegetable matter here and a bit of vegetable matter there. That was their last card. I wasn't aware until the night before that they were gonna pull this. I didn't want to be stuck there 'umming and arring' about some hash they found once."
When Bigs told James Wood, his barrister, that he did not want to give evidence, Wood couldn't believe it. He even got Bigs to sign a piece of paper saying it was his own decision not to appear. Wood had spent the entire weekend previous to the trial writing up his notes and preparing a case that included Bigs appearing in his own defence. Much to his adaptable credit however, James Woods one and a half hour summing up at the end of the trial, ripped shreds in the evidence presented by the police. The prosecutor, whose face dropped red when he realised that Bigs with his 7 facial piercings was not going to appear before the jury, spoke for just five minutes.
Exodus had simply let the police present their evidence and be cross examined, offering no witnesses for their own defence. After taking only five minutes to reach a decision, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, based solely on listening to the police tie contradictory knots around their own fabrications; strangling their own story before the judges. "As Me mum used to say - 'Give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves," observes Bigs wryly.
The local papers couldn't believe it, having previously reported the charges in full, they printed the result of the trial in a tiny little column. Both The Herald and the Luton on Sunday rely quite heavily on brewery advertisements for their revenue and there is a major Whitbread brewery in Luton. Sometimes, entire issues are wrapped in a colour advertisement for Whitbread. The connection between the breweries and Exodus is clearly given away in articles in Whitbread News about how the pubs of Luton empty when Exodus hold a dance. In what Glenn Jenkins refers to as the "year of the smear", these newspapers had actively published stories slandering the Collective, preparing for the day they all thought that Bigs would go down. When Jenkins approached the editor of the Herald after the trial, accusing him of complicity in a slander campaign and of being a freemason, he went red in the face. Three weeks later he resigned his position and the newspaper has remained devoid of any mention of the Exodus Collective since. The divisional commander for Bedfordshire Police, Chief Superintendent Alan Marlow also took 'early retirement'. He was quoted in a recent magazine article: "I now know a little bit more abut Exodus than I probably did at the time. So if we were starting again from scratch I might not necessarily make the same sort of objections."
His replacement, Chief Superintendent Andy Nash, has recently replied to a letter sent by Exodus to a number of official bodies, calling for a round table discussion on the Criminal Justice Bill. In the letter he says he is willing to meet and talk. Recently, the police have ceased raiding Exodus's property and dances, even calling off an operation sent to stop a rave, when they discovered that it was Exodus that was organising it. Cautiously talks began.
"My family have been through a lot with the old bill," says Bigs. "So it was the first time to trust the them. It was a major step - it was like now or never. If it was down to me at the time, I would have said 'no' because of my personal experience. But it's not just about me, it's about forwardness and that forwardness outweighs what I've got to think. The forwardness at that time was to work with the old bill no matter what they've done to my family. I'm not pretending that they're not fucked up but now I think the sooner we go to the table the better."
Reminding themselves that 'there is no such thing as an honest copper' Exodus have been talking to the police and finding a few bonus exceptions to the rule. It's been a long road to this point though, establishing the right to regenerate their local community despite viscious and underhand attacks directed against the Collective by those upstairs in the Police station, and those who whisper in the ears of those upstairs. A full enquiry into the operations levelled against the Collective, by both the police and local newspapers, is next on the cards. Michael Mansfield QC has agreed to chair such an enquiry and it remains up to an end-of-September council policy meeting, to decide whether the local authorities will fund the enquiry. Recent prevarications by the police have provoked the liberal democrats to join the labour group in calling for the enquiry to go ahead. All looks set for a full public exposure of the vitriol and negative obstruction laid in the path of the Exodus. As Glenn Jenkins rightly points out - "We're too good an idea to fuck with. The Red Sea parted."
To see Squall's full coverage of Exodus click here