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Keighley grandmothers arrested over spy base protest

[Thursday 06 April 2006]

A protest outside a North Yorkshire spy base has seen two grandmothers become the first people arrested under a new law aimed at targeting organised criminals.

68 year old Helen Johns and Sylvia Boyes, 62, were arrested for criminal trespass outside the US electronic intelligence gathering base at Menwith Hill between Skipton and Harrogate.

Both women, who are from Keighley, walked 15 feet across a sentry line outside the massive compound and were detained under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act; the new powers came in to force on April 1st, the day of the protest.

Regular protests are held outside the Menwith Hill base, which campaigners want to see closed due to what they describe as its involvement in US military operations around the world and its lack of accountability.

Commenting on the use of the new law, an MoD police spokesman said: "The rationale behind the new criminal trespass offence is to prevent protesters who trespass from distracting the security forces from their real job which is to provide security for important defence sites.

"Protest outside the sites remains perfectly lawful."

Sylvia Boyes, one of the two grandmothers' arrested, said: "We are the first people to have been arrested under the new Act which now criminalises trespass.

"The only criminal trespass and serious organised crime that we need to be worried about is taking place inside Menwith Hill."

Campaigners are now worried that the new law will erode civil liberties and restrict the traditional British right to protest.

Kate Hudson, from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said:

"We have long-held historic rights to protest in Britain, which are a crucial part of our democracy.

"With this recent legislation the government has crossed the line from being a protector of citizens to being a force which prevents the legitimate right to protest.

"This is absolutely unacceptable and augurs badly for the future of British civil liberties."

The two women are now on bail until April 15th.

  • A Yorkshire peer has raised fears that so called Son of Star Wars missiles could be based in our region. Lord Wallace of Saltaire says the mere fact that we have the spy base at Menwith Hill, along with the Fylingdales early warning station on the North York Moors, means that we are close to top of the list when it comes to siting an interceptor missile battery.

Read more about Menwith Hill

what do you think?

Should protesters be arrested under a law aimed at organised criminals?

Should the US be allowed to maintain its base at Menwith Hill, or should it close as the protesters wish?

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