Protesters again cut through fence, gain access to Lakenheath
March 20, 2003
RAF MILDENHALL, England — For the second time in a week, protesters have cut through the fence on the north side of RAF Lakenheath and gained access to the base.
Two people sliced through the fence late Tuesday night and entered the base, home of the 48th Fighter Wing. No flying operations were in process at the time.
On March 11 around midday, nine people reached the flight line and disrupted operations.
Both times, the protesters were apprehended, but the success in reaching the interior of the base in eastern England was easier than the protesters expected.
“I was surprised at how easy it was,” said Daniel Grace, 22, a student at the University of East Anglia. “Surprised and slightly scared. I’d never done anything like this in my lifetime.”
Some of the protesters last week, including Grace, rode bicycles on the flight line, while others chained themselves together. It took a couple of hours for Minstry of Defence police to cut them apart.
Grace said he was arrested by MOD police, taken from the base and “de-arrested.”
Others were charged with aggravated trespassing and suspicion of criminal damage, said Sarah Bania-Dobyns, a spokeswoman for the group. They videotaped their efforts and the result has been a staple on local television news.
An MOD press spokesman said the two protesters from Tuesday — a man and a woman — were both charged with criminal damage to property and aggravated trespass.
Protesters have entered U.K. bases at other times. A few cut their way into RAF Lakenheath during a protest last fall, raising a banner on the water tower before being arrested. In January, protesters cut through the fence at RAF Mildenhall and stopped the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s flying operations for about 20 minutes.
Protesters have also entered RAF Fairford in western England, where B-52 bombers are now stationed for possible service during any war with Iraq.
A spokesman at RAF Lakenheath said the success of the protesters does not mean the base is an easy touch for anyone wanting entry.
“The base is very secure,” said Master Sgt. Will Ackerman. “The fence line is a very long fence line. We can’t have an individual on every inch of that fence line.”
But, he said, the people who work on the north side of the base were vigilant and reported the presence of the protesters. Each time, he said, the protesters were apprehended shortly after reaching the base’s interior.
“It’s definitely a testament to the people who work out on that side of the base,” he said.
Grace said his group was on the base for 10 or 15 minutes before anyone seemed to notice. And this was after a member of the group, which included students, teachers and others not associated with the university, called the base to report their presence.
Bania-Dobyns said the base was alerted for the protection of everyone involved, both protesters and base personnel.
“Otherwise, it would have been really dangerous,” said the native of Colorado and also an East Anglia University student. “We didn’t want to put people in that situation.”
She said the group is not formally organized, but just 20 or so people who believe war with Iraq is the wrong course of action. Their intent was to nonviolently disrupt military operations, she said, which they did.
Grace said he and others talked later about how easy their entry had been and wondered if it would be more difficult for someone who did not want to be seen and caught.
“I don’t think it would be,” he said. “No. I really don’t.”