Tuesday, 15 April 2008

‘Passport to Padstow’ – some points to be considered

An article in ‘The Sunday Times’ magazine on 14th April 2008 made a number of salient points about the attitude and arrests made by Devon and Cornwall police in 2007 of members of the Cornish cultural and political movement. The article ‘Passport to Padstow’, written by freelance journalist Richard Johnson, was probably the only positively balanced article produced by the London press about the Cornish nationalist political scene in the last couple of years.

Johnson was invited to Cornwall by Mike Chappell of the Celtic League last year after being contacted by the journalist who was interested in writing a piece about Cornwall after the CNLA/CRA hit the headlines early in 2007. Johnson promised that he was not looking for sensationalism, but said he wanted to try to show the situation for how it was.

The article generally makes for an interesting read and below I have extracted several short sentences and passages and made comments below each:

“Since the CNLA’s threats, they [Devon and Cornwall police] have pulled in a significant number of suspects for questioning. They have to be seen to take threats of terrorism seriously.”

The police may have thought that they should do something, but their treatment of their ‘suspects’ have left the lives of many of those arrested devastated.

“Hugh Rowe, a member of the Cornish Stannary parliament – the original governing body of Cornwall’s tin-mining community – was taken into custody on suspicion of the illegal possession of a firearm. All because the CNLA talked about having Fifteen Cornwall – Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Watergate Bay – “in their sights”. As a “stannator”, Rowe is regularly involved in “tackling English cultural aggression in Cornwall”, which can include removing English Heritage signs from tourist destinations. But that involves bolt-cutters. Not a sawn-off shotgun.

The police pulled apart his Camborne home and left with a balaclava (“which I use for fishing or when I’m out with the pigeons,” says Rowe), three flags of St Piran and a book on the commissioning of the twin towers in New York. “I got it in an antique shop in Camborne for £2.” Rowe was released without charge, but the case is still being investigated. He insists his phone is being tapped. “I think the raid was ordered by central government,” he says.”

All charges against Rowe were dropped and not surprisingly either, because he should never have been arrested in the first place. A balaclava? A book? Suspicion of owning a firearm course he didn’t own)? Hardly grounds to arrest someone.

“Dave Eddy, a labourer from Padstow, was taken into custody after allegedly making a threatening call to Fifteen Cornwall, demanding to know how many Cornish people worked there. Eddy told the Western Morning News that, while he is happy to be called a Cornish nationalist, he doesn’t condone violence. And he emphatically denied being a member of the CNLA.”

Again, why should a phone call, asking perfectly legitimate questions, make you a terrorist subject? I mean, the man even gave his name!

“Meibion Glyndwr – or “the sons of Glyndwr” – attacked over 200 properties in Wales, in protest against rural homes being sold as holiday cottages to incomers. But the authorities were too heavy- handed. Aran Jones, Cymuned’s chief executive, remembers the police hauling people out of bed in the early morning just because they’d worn T-shirts saying “Ta Ta Tai Haf” –“Goodbye, Holiday Home”. Meibion Glyndwr were left looking like the champions of the people.

It’s too early to say if the CNLA will come to be seen as the Cornish Meibion Glyndwr. “But the fact of the matter is,” says Jones, “that even if the CNLA is two people in a caravan, it is important that it’s taken seriously.” And, as Jones suggests, the Devon and Cornwall police would be well advised to proceed with caution. “If they are heavy-handed,” says Jones, “the way they were in Gwynedd, they will advance the cause of Cornish nationalism by about 20 years.”

The CNLA/CRA are hardly champions of the people, but I have heard a number of people say that they are the only group who are/were prepared to take direct action against the many causes of social injustice in Cornwall. Jones is right when he said that they should be taken seriously, not because they are a real terrorist threat (if indeed they ever really are/were), but because they highlighted issues in the mass media about Cornwall that have in the passed been largely ignored.

The Devon and Cornwall police did act in an heavy handed way, in response to the CNLA/CRA threat and as such it seems that they have learned very little from the mistakes made in Wales in the 1970’s. In behaving in this way, Devon and Cornwall police have indeed alienated many people in the Cornish political and cultural movement. At the same time the police have unfortunately reinforced the belief that there is little room for peaceful expressions of protest, in a Cornwall gripped by English anti terror legislation.

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