Around 800 nonviolent protesters have succeeded in blocking access to the majority of gates at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire. Faith groups are playing a major role in the protests, which began at 7.00am this morning.
The police have struggled to keep at least one gate open throughout the morning, with different gates becoming blocked, opened and re-blocked at various times.
Protesters have peacefully laid down in entrances, as well as chaining themselves to the gates and to each other. Many have been forcibly removed by the police, although only 11 arrests have so far been reported.
A larger number of demonstrators stood next to the entrances to express their opposition to nuclear arms and their support for those risking arrest.
“This place belongs to the Lord,” theologian John Hull told campaigners protesting outside the Tadley Gate, “We are here to reclaim it in his name”. His comments were greeted by a cheer from the multifaith crowd.
The protest is organised by Trident Ploughshares, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign.
In addition to seeking to disrupt the site’s working for a day, campaigners also want to publicise the level of public opposition to the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
Faith groups in particular have assembled at the Tadley Gate, which they have kept closed all morning. A lorry that attempted to go through the gate reversed after three teenagers sat down in front of it.
Methodist minister Knut Heim reminded protestors that Jesus had said that the “gates of hell” would not prevail against his people. Indicating the closed gate behind him, he said “This gate that has the potential to be a gate of hell has not prevailed against us”.
While police initially sought to control the driveway to the Tadley Gate, at around 9.45am they retreated inside the gate itself. Earlier, the police had removed a number of protesters, including some chained to each other, from the driveway, but several dived through police lines to lie on the ground.
Rev Chris Hewson of Bradford lay on the ground for nearly an hour, surrounded by police, before they retreated to the gate. After standing up, he told Ekklesia that he was “feeling great” as he paced around to get warm and welcomed a cup of tea. He said he felt very supported by the demonstrators singing, cheering and talking behind the police lines.
Demonstrators early this morning included the Bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell. Other bishops are expected for an interfaith liturgy due to begin at 11.00am.