display | more...

For those who are unaware, the Leeds Festival is among the largest annual music festivals in the UK, held annually in, unsurprisingly, the city of Leeds. Although typically the festival is three superb days of good music, bad campsites, bad food and stolen shoes, things did not go entirely to plan in 2002.

This writeup is intended as an impartial account of the riots that took place on the last day of the Leeds Festival, 2002. I cannot guarantee complete objectivity however, as the behaviour of the police on this occasion was at times enough to enrage even the most militant fascist (a term I use without prejudice). All times listed here are merely approximations, as three days and nights of loud music, bad campsite conditions and intake of various chemicals had rendered the author's sense of tempus fugit less accurate than usual. Furthermore, the author can only comment on the events of one particular part of the vast Leeds camping grounds, due to aggressive containment by riot police. If anyone can add nodes regarding the events at campsites other than Red-B5, I'd love to hear about them.

Disturbances begin. Awoken by the sound of a helicopter circling at low altitude overhead, I and fellow music-lover Dan leave the relative security of our tent to survey the scene outside. Two helicopters are visible at approximately 100ft, circling slowly with high-power searchlights trained on an area out of our field of view. A Stewards' gantry, a large scaffold tower fully manned by festival personnel, is also pointing it's own smaller light towards the same area. A large number of other campers are also attracted by the helicopters and lights, and begin to gravitate towards the focus of the three beams. We follow suit. We are stopped by many red-clad Stewards along the way and are told to piss off back to where we came from. We respectfully decline this command, on the grounds that the Stewards have little actual authority. Also, in all honesty neither I nor any other member of the campsite were likely to respond kindly to a command delivered in such a rude and abrupt manner. Walking around the campsite late at night is something of a Leeds tradition, so many people were partaking in said activity.

Upon reaching a four-way intersection of the dirt paths that seperate the various campsites, loud popping sounds are heard from beyond the hedges lining said paths. The sudden red glow in the air identifies a fire of some kind. Crowds can be seen on two of the four intersection paths; the path left of our position sports a crowd of approximately three hundred, illuminated in the light from a fire we cannot see; our side contains roughly fifty people, standing around, drinking beer and wondering what the other crowd is looking at. Inquiries reveal that someone has set the Portaloos alight; the popping sounds that now come approximately once every two minutes are the individual plastic toilets (of which there are roughly one hundred per area) cooking off and exploding from internal pressure. At this stage, there are no fights, no violence of any kind. A large group of people, including myself, stand to watch a fire created by at most three drunken idiots. Stewards continue to harass the crowd in a very impolite manner, although refrain from physical action as they are outnumbered approximately fifty to one.

Two riot vans loaded with police are seen hurtling towards the intersection, from the path to our right. They skid to a halt in the mud, blocking that path from futher access, and approximately thirty riot police pile out. They are in full combat gear; shields, armour, pain batons and helmets. The police immediately charge the fifteen or so poor souls caught in the intersection at the wrong time. These people are not asked to withdraw; they are charged, shield-tackled to the ground and subdued with baton strikes before being dragged back to the vans for arrest. I state again that at this time no violence was being demonstrated by anyone other than the riot police. It should also be noted that under obscure UK law, an unannounced gathering of more than a dozen or so people constitutes a riot, against which the police are authorised to use tear gas and rubber bullets. This law is seldom enforced. At this point, all Stewards forget about public safety and vanish into the night. A large number retreat to the safety of the gantry, from which they continue to direct their blinding searchlight at anyone nearby.

The riot police form a defensive perimeter around the intersection, blocking the two paths with people on them with a line of armoured men. This traps a large number of people, preventing them from getting back to their tents. Once established, each police line mounts a line charge against the onlookers, catching only those too drunk or too slow to get out of the way. Those caught by the charges are treated similarly to the former inhabitants of the intersection. This demonstration of undue force greatly angers the larger crowd, who have just seen a large number of their friends beaten up and arrested for standing still. This incites the riot proper, and the bottles start flying. The police erect extremely powerful searchlights and direct them into the face of both crowds at a range of roughly fifty feet. In the meantime, in a slightly comical manner, the Portaloos continue to explode one after another.

It becomes apparent that someone has also set fire to the Welfare tent. Topographically, both the (now decimated) Portaloo area and the Welfare tent lie on opposite sides of the dirt path occupied by the large crowd. The Welfare tent contained not only a large amount of money to help those robbed or otherwise financially stranded at the festival, but a huge supply of mostly unused Butane and Propane gas canisters. These canisters are roughly five feet in height, with plastic and rubber caps; their capacity can only be guessed as considerably larger than your average Camping Gaz stove. The flaming tent aggravates the police more, who seem to mentally shift the situation to a higher threat level. The police begin to mount a shield charge every five to six minutes, frequently catching a few people unawares each time and giving them the now familiar beating and subsequent arrest. No order to disperse has been issued, no verbal communication between police and crowd is attempted. These charges aggravate the crowd, as well as attracting the truly nasty characters who live for riots. Mass bottle-throwing by the light of burning Portaloos ensues. The police are unharmed due to their protective gear.

00:40 - 01:30
The police continue to occupy the intersection for no apparent strategic benefit. No passage is permitted through the intersection, attempts by our crowd (at this point about fifty strong and NOT throwing anything) to speak to the commanding officer are met with more shield charges, baton strikes and screamed commands to move back. At this point the Portaloos have stopped exploding and seem content to merely burn apologetically; however the Welfare tent (with the square footage of a small house and wooden furniture inside) is now burning like a flare.

The first gas explosion occurs from within the Welfare tent. The scene begins to take on a nightmarish post-apocalyptic quality as the cap on a gas canister melts off and it discharges explosively into the night air. A small mushroom cloud of burning vapour is formed, setting alight all trees and vegetation nearby. Mercifully, nobody is harmed. Whilst the crowds withdraw from the flames and calm down a bit, police activity intensifies. More shield charges occur, bottles are thrown in retaliation. An interesting situation develops when several rioters pick up an eight-foot section of steel grid fence and attempt a strange counter-charged at the police. This proves futile, as British riot police are big, scary and numerous, mounting a charge of their own. The sight of nearly two dozen armed men clad in black causes the rebels to rethink their advance, flinging the fence at the police and running if not for their lives, for their ability to chew unaided.

01:40 - 02:00
A fairly stationary period, during which the gas canisters continue to cook off in sequence and the police refrain from further assaults on the crowd. In the distance, more fires can be seen; tales from afar reveal that just about every Portaloo in the five square mile campsite has been set aflame. During this time, destructive rioting spreads outwards away from the police blockade. At the start of the festival aluminium poles, roughly 25ft high, had been erected at 75ft intervals along all paths. Strung between them were outdoor lightbulbs on live power cables, to provide illumination along the paths. Groups of rioters attack and down most of them, at which point the lighting fails. The Stewards' gantry, far outside the protection and even sight of the riot police, is charged by a large number of drunken revellers. The Stewards wisely abandon the tower and flee into the forest of tents, never to be seen again. The revellers occupy the tower, and direct the spotlight (now running low on battery power) at the police line and most other people passing by.

A single gas canister explodes, and takes several more with it. A shockingly powerful explosion rocks the area surrounding the intersection. Flames leap nearly fifty feet into the sky, chasing a vast fireball that spreads out above crowd and police alike, the air slightly less breathable for a few seconds due to oxygen depletion. Bottle throwing ceases as people run for cover; the police line collapses as they hit the ground with their shields over them. As the crowd recovers, the police decide the situation is too dangerous for them and jump back into their vans, tires screeching back the way they came. Cries of victory from the now violent mob herald the end of the mini siege but the beginning of an hour of senseless destruction. Although I know of no attacks on tents or campers, almost all of the festival-owned property in the area was destroyed. This includes most Portaloos (quite why public toilets should become the focus they did is probably due to the nausea and vomiting suffered by most people after spending a few minutes in an airtight plastic box with several pounds of other people's faeces), lighting poles, gantries and fences. It was at this point that Dan and I withdrew to our tent to wake our two companions and to arm ourselves (admittedly only with a hammer and a pocket knife) against the possibility of attack. Thankfully, the only people we had to see off was one skinny drug dealer and his manservant (you know, the ones who pretend to be stoned off their faces and wander up to you with stories of how good his mate's shit is), who attempted to sell us an eighth of oregano for twenty quid and became unhappy when we refused.

This concludes my knowledge of these events. If anyone knows anything more or disputes what I have written, please msg me. I apologise once again if this w/u seems biased, but I currently do not enjoy objectivity on this matter.

I have receieved comments from a single noder apparently in the same vicinity that he believes the conduct of the police was completely reasonable and within riot control laws. He also suggested that anyone 'stupid enough' to be in the area deserved anything they got.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.