Demonstration and token blockade of Northwood military HQ, 19 January 2003

Stephen Hewitt

On Sunday 19 January 2003, a demonstration of 240 people marched from Northwood tube station to the main entrance of Northwood military HQ, where about 70 people sat down in the road until they were arrested.


Northwood Headquarters, Sandy Lane, Northwood, Hertfordshire HA6 3HB, also known as HMS Warrior, is believed to be the headquarters for several different military command structures including NATO ones.

On Sunday 19 January 2003, about 240 people marched from Northwood tube station to the main entrance of Northwood HQ, escorted by police, with a police car leading the way.

Outside Northwood HQ main gate, a large number of people sat down in road, refused to move when requested by the police, and were arrested. I saw at least one student from Cambridge University in the queue of those arrested. At the time I estimated the number of who remained in the road and were arrested at about 40 but according to a report on the ARROW website, 70 people were arrested. The ARROW figure should be be accurate since they had observers to collect the names of all those arrested. It was difficult to see how many people remained in the road and were subsequently arrested, for reasons explained below.

Earlier in the day six people had chained themselves in front of the main gate and the last one was cut free and released by police at about 1pm. They were not arrested.


Arriving at Northwood underground station on the replacement bus service, it was apparent that many people on the bus were going to the march to Northwood HQ, including someone carrying a cardboard sickle.

At Northwood tube, there was a small crowd of people ready to march, many police and 8 police vans parked nearby (11.52.00.jpg). The march started at around 12:00, being filmed most extensively by the police. I counted 240-250 people.

Turning the corner into Watford Road some at the front of the march sat down in the road. (12.26.09.jpg, 12.26.34.jpg ) After a few minutes Milan Rai explained with his loudspeaker that the reason for the sit-down was some disagreement with the police who had requested the march to walk on the left/on the grass/ not on the grass it was hard to know exactly. This was apparently resolved after a few minutes, because the march continued.

We were soon walking past a wire mesh fence on the left, approximately 10 feet high, with coiled razor wire on the top - this was part of Northwood HQ. Periodically there was the alarming sight of a teenager behind the fence holding an automatic weapon (12.42.00.jpg ). There also seemed to be many police behind the fence.

At the junction where The Woods meets the A4125 (called Watford Road and further north, Sandy Lane) the A4125 was completely blocked by police vans ( 12.37.07.jpg ). No one made any attempt to pass this blockade and most stood in the road, some singing songs.

After ten minutes or so Milan Rai was heard over the loudspeaker saying:

For those who can't see past the rest of the demonstrators there are several police vans blocking the main road and the main gate itself is blockaded by police vans [cheers, applause, and then repeated shouts of "police against the war" ] The police have given the option for people who don't want to ...We'll have an update in a second. We'll have an update in a second.

What's ahead of us is that there's a stretch of road about a hundred yards long or so to the main gate on the right hand side of that road there's a pavement and there are are a barriers all along the road on the pavement side and they run all the way up to the main gate so when we came and surveyed it earlier it looked as though the police might be making provision for some people who weren't engaging in civil disobedience to perhaps going and standing behind that. Right now the police are negotiating or or informing us what possible options are and rapidly changing the er the offer that they just made so in a second [unclear] the latest definitive position about what's going to happen.

Someone else took the microphone to say:

Ok what the police are saying now is that they will move their vans and that we can all proceed in the road and sit down outside the main gate. [cheering from the crowd] They will let us sit there for the time being and they will review the position in an hour or some other time period unspecified and that's it for now. [more cheering and repeated chants of "police against the war"].

The police vans were moved, and the marchers proceeded to the main gate of Northwood HQ.

It was difficult to see much of the entrance of Northwood, because of the police vans in front of one half of the entrance and a row of police in front of the other half. (13.11.56.jpg, 13.16.23.jpg ) The vans were carefully parked, overlapping, with about one foot of the nearside of the front of one van against the offside rear of the next van, so it was impossible to walk or even see between them (14.38.38.jpg, 16.03.32.jpg ).

Not long after arriving outside the main entrance, I saw police carrying someone out from the main gate and putting them down in the road. I saw this three times. During this time there was a grinding noise from the main gate and looking towards it, behind the line of police, I saw some sparks and also a portable generator.

There was another loudspeaker announcement:

"for the last few hours there's been a group of activists [unclear] behind those vans over there, locked on to a giant pair of purple underpants and on those purple underpants it says war is pants Three cheers for the [unclear] people."

From people there I learned that six people had chained themselves outside the main entrance to the base at about 9:20. They had done this by putting their arms into steel tube and locking it inside using some climbing clamps. The police used an angle grinder to cut them free. The police had treated them well, for example, covering them to protect them from the sparks from the angle grinder.

I saw the last person being carried away from the gate by the police at about 13:15, so this means they had succeeded in obstructing the main gate for 4 hours.

There was another announcement:

OK folks we've We've just had a phone call from some people saying four people [unclear] they're locked onto the other gate, the only other gate to the base so both gates apparently are now closed and Northwood is locked out.

Heading back down Sandy Lane to take a look at the other gate, I met a large group of others, including the drummers, accompanied by police, walking on the side of the road and evidently going to the same place. However, at the junction of Atria Road and Eastbury Avenue, there were police and police vehicles and no-one attempted to enter Atria Road and go towards the base. The group stood for ten minutes or so in the middle of Eastbury Avenue.

Someone was arrested at about this point. I first saw him being taken to a police van and this picture shows him in the back of the van (13.39.57.jpg ).

The group remained in the middle of Eastbury Avenue until the police moved them, at one point physically pushing people to the side of the road (13.45.18.jpg ). They stood on the side of the road for some minutes, before marching back the way they had come, leaving half a dozen or so standing at the junctions of Atria Road and Eastbury Avenue. Some of the public and some of the police were talking and making some jokes. A passing car hooted sounded the horn in support and one of the police joked that they would arrest him for "improper use of your horn".

While I stood there a someone walked out from Atria Road, He said that he had done an anti-clockwise walk around the perimeter and it was possible to reach the side gate, and that the side gate was free when he saw it, no-one was chained to it.

Back at the main gate, a police officer used the loudspeaker of the Rinky Dink to announce that people could demonstrate behind the barriers opposite the entrance for as long as they liked. However he would consider his powers of arrest for people who refused to leave the road after 3pm. At around this time, I counted about 40 people sitting in the road in front of the main gate, and about 120-150 standing.

Milan Rai said that we have to make a decision whether to split into two groups, or whether all to remain here. One man responded that because of what the police had said, it was clear that we should stay together here. Milan said that we have consensus and that is what we will do.

Sometime after 3pm, a large number of police and vans approached from the north down Sandy Lane (15.13.44.jpg, 15.15.45.jpg ). I moved out of the road when asked to do so and stood on the kerb with a row of other people with cameras. It was clear that none of us was blocking the road. Yet I was told by one police officer that I must move behind the barriers that were along the side of the road. Another police officer unhooked one of the barriers so that people could move through them. The police began arresting those who remained in the road ( 15.33.52.jpg et seq.).

Another noticeable aspect was the way the police parked the vans in a long line and prevented the public from seeing or filming what happened to those who were arrested (15.46.00.jpg ). They also prevented people from seeing what was happening in the road by standing in a row between the public behind the barriers and those sitting down in the highway Meanwhile the police photographer was busy filming what they prevented the public from seeing or filming. At around 15:55 I counted about 36 people still sitting in the road and I guessed about 10 had been arrested, but someone else said they thought about 19 people had already been arrested. Each person who the police arrested and carried or marched out to the vans received a cheer from the crowd.

The police refused to allow anyone onto the road, regardless of whether you wanted to block it or just exercise your right to walk down it. Eventually I saw them allowing someone to go between the vans - a legal observer to take the names of those being arrested. These observers had been shouting to the queue of those arrested from behind the barriers and between the vans (15.39.10.jpg ). In this queue there was at least one student from Cambridge University.

I didn't see any sign at the entrance to the base, although there were three brackets on the steel fence where presumably a sign once was ( 12.59.15.jpg ) Perhaps the sign's absence was due to the work of three people - Scott Brecht, Angela Broom and Damien Prescott - who are reported to have been arrested after they (reportedly) poured red paint (symbolising blood) on the sign on Sunday 22 December 2002 (Non-Violent Resistance Network Newsletter, January 2003)

One man with a television camera said he was from Sky News. I saw another two with a television camera interviewing people who were sitting in the road in front of the base.