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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Greenham Common
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Wednesday, 10 November, 1999, 17:44 GMT
Jean Hutchinson: The threat is still with us

The land outside the perimeter fence of Greenham Common has been home to Jean Hutchinson for almost two decades.

By her own reckoning, her residence there has sometimes been temporary, sometimes unbroken for years - but she says that Greenham is, and will always be, her "spiritual home".

And next year - her 50th in the peace movement - she plans, along with two other women who have remained on the land outside the former airbase, to leave.

At the height of the women's peace camp at Greenham Common, the spot where 66-year-old Ms Hutchinson's caravan now stands was Yellow Gate, the hub of activities.

She told BBC News Online: "We didn't think it was democratic that Thatcher's government could just decide to let Americans bring nuclear weapons into the country.

JEAN HUTCHINSON Ms Hutchinson sends out the Greenham Common Peace Camp newsletter from the last caravan
"We wanted an open debate with the politicians about it and that's what we were holding out for."

The peace camp had started in 1981, and by the mid 80s, more than a thousand women had moved there, and many tens of thousands more came for weekends and to lend part-time support.

Ms Hutchinson said: "The military had this grand scheme that in the event of a time of crisis, they would send the missiles out into the countryside on launchers, and so they would practise taking missile carrying lorries out of the base.

"Usually they came out of the base at some speed - maybe 60mph sometimes. Anyway, one night we got wind that a lorry would be coming out, and so as normal we went about trying to block its way out of the base.

'Look of horror on driver's face'

"Me and another woman knew a way to actually get just inside the base, and did so with the intention of preventing or delaying the lorry from even leaving the gate.

"We saw the lorry coming - they were huge things - and it was going much slower than usual. We ran out of hiding to jump in front of it.

"Normally, the drivers would either wave and smile at us, or make rude gestures. But this time, a look of horror just came over the driver's face as we got in front of the lorry.

"The military police were all over us and pushed us to the side of the road in the gutter. From down there, I could see the top of the lorry and there was a stream of steam coming out of the top of it.

campfire Day to day life at the camp involved the mundane as well as planning actions
"I knew at that point that of all of the lorries we had seen, and tried to stop - lighting fires in the road and laying down in front of them - this was the first that was actually carrying a nuclear weapon.

"I find it difficult to put into words the horror I experienced then - to actually be so close to such a thing.

"I obviously very strongly believed then as I do now that weapons of mass destruction are evil and shouldn't have been created, shouldn't have been brought to Greenham, and shouldn't have been taken out into the countryside.

"But there was also the terribly unsafe way they were being kept there - if we could get that near to the lorry and know when it was coming, then any terrorist could have done the same."

Imprisoned 15-20 times

Her actions often resulted in her being convicted and imprisoned. She doesn't know the exact amount of times she has been jailed, but guesses at somewhere between 15 and 20.

She said: "A wise person once told me that to count would be to see a greater amount of imprisonments being more important than someone else's fewer imprisonments - and they are all important."

She says that day to day life at Yellow Gate involved the mundane, like gathering wood for the fire and water from a stand tap and cooking.

fence break "We didn't think it was wrong to cut down the fence"
But it could also be extremely hectic, for example, when the bailiffs were doing their rounds to try to evict the women and their property from the site.

There were also "actions" to plan and carry out - acts of non-violent protest against the cruise missiles, which ranged from laying down in front of vehicles to linking arms around the base, to cutting down sections of the perimeter fence.

"We were outraged that this piece of common land, that belonged to the people, had been commandeered in this way and for this purpose," she said.

"We therefore didn't think it was wrong to cut down the fence and try to gain access to what was common land."

And then there was the business of dealing with bus loads of women who turned up in their hundreds and thousands every weekend and at points throughout the week to offer part-time support for the best part of five years.

Although Ms Hutchinson is due to leave the peace camp in less than two months, she says her campaigning days are not over.

'Greenham isn't dead'

She has again "gone into battle" with the local authorities over plans to erect a memorial garden and statue to commemorate the women's peace camp, and a peace campaigner who died in a road accident near the base, Helen Thomas.

An amount of local opposition to proposals for the memorial has seen former members of Rate Payers Against the Greenham Encampment (RAGE) once again take up the gauntlet against the remaining Greenham women.

She is also currently embroiled in a complicated legal process as a result of her cutting through the perimeter fence at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment.

And she says she will continue to protest against nuclear weapons.

She said: "I am married and my husband is also involved in the peace movement, and so is my son and one of my daughters.

"Greenham isn't dead. Something started here which will carry on. The threat from nuclear weapons is still with us - as much today as it was 20 years ago. And we will not stop fighting it."

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End of an era

See also:
04 Nov 99 |  Wales
Peace campaigners win memorial battle
06 Sep 99 |  Wales
Peace women to end their protest

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