The man in charge of the police response to the “Scumerset Free Party” says officers were “unlucky” not to have thwarted the illegal rave.
More than 3,000 people gathered at a former RAF base in Upper Swainswick, between Bristol and Bath, last night (July 18) and hundreds were still raving this afternoon.
Underground rave team Party Line UK have posted a Youtube video showing huge crowds, strobe lights, loud dance music and a massive sound system at the event.
In an in-depth interview with Bristol Live, Chief Superintendent Ian Wylie has now said:
- Police were “unlucky” not to stop the rave after thwarting one in Frome earlier
- The organisers are believed to have had six “back-up” sites
- There was “no doubt” a risk of violence if officers unplugged the sound system
- Some ravers travelled from as far away as Sheffield
- Five vehicles with sound equipment have been seized and at least one person arrested
- Around 60 revellers moved to a new site to carry on the party this afternoon.
‘Many of the people were drinking heavily’
Ch Supt Wylie says police received intelligence at “the back end of last week” that a rave was expected in Somerset over the weekend.
He said: “You’ve got to realise just how big an area that is. Anti-rave patrols were put out in some of the more likely locations.
“We do believe we thwarted an attempted rave in Frome earlier in the evening. They’ve gone on to then set up, unbeknown to us, another rave in Upper Swainswick.
“Upwards of six locations were identified by the organisers – we understand they had at least six back-ups in case one fell through. They’d already done a reccy of the site in Upper Swainswick.”
“There was a call from the public that alerted us to the rave, and we were there within 10 minutes. The stages and sound systems were already established.”
The chief superintendent was coordinating the response from the control room, with commanders on the ground feeding him information.
He continued: “I know many residents would have liked us to unplug the sound system, but with only a small number of officers there, it wasn’t safe to do so.
“We know many of the people were drinking heavily. The likelihood of violence against officers was significant.
“These sites aren’t safety checked, and we didn’t know what we were stepping in to.”
Ch Supt Wylie did not confirm the number of officers present, but said: “We didn’t have a standing army. We dealt with another 120 emergency calls overnight, which took away from our resources.”
‘Impossible to prevent it escalating’
“Many, many hundreds” of ravers were already there by the time officers arrived.
“Many more people were arriving, and in spite of closing local access routes, people were just leaving their cars in local lanes and walking to the site,” Ch Supt Wylie added.
“There was no perimeter fence to stop them.”
Asked if any people walking in were stopped, he replied: “We stopped and spoke to a number of people.
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“But individuals can be directed away under rave legislation, they can then turn right and go into another field in the dark, and get in another way.
“It becomes a very difficult task. There were no street lights and it was the middle of the countryside. It was impossible to prevent it escalating.”
Police discovered some of the revellers had travelled from as far as Sheffield.
“We had no cooperation last night because we didn’t have the numbers to safely make the organisers do what we asked,” Ch Supt Wylie said.
He said he was not aware of any threats against officers, but organisers refused to engage with them.
“There weren’t any arrests last night but there have been this afternoon,” he said.
Music turned off
With more officers on the scene, police were able to turn off the music by 1pm.
“We’ve seized five vehicles with sound equipment, and a generator,” Ch Supt Sylie continued.
“I am aware of one arrest this afternoon. One person was arrested under Section 63 legislation, for refusing to leave.
“Once directed to leave, most people left the site, which negated any need to arrest them.”
There were around eight ambulance calls linked to the event. Ch Supt Wylie says people’s injuries were drug and alcohol-related, but was unable to give more details.
“It illustrates the organisers are not interested in the safety of revellers, and it illustrates why we couldn’t go on the site last night,” he added.
“There is an automatic number-plate recognition operation to gather details of those leaving the site.
“Because of the legislation, we can’t arrest people if they leave when asked, but by gathering vehicle details, it gives us a clearer intelligence picture to help us prevent something like this happening again.”
He said he did not know if anyone leaving the site has been arrested for drink or drug-driving, but officers have been monitoring the area with this concern in mind.
Asked if they will contact owners of vehicles which left the scene, he replied: “That’s a matter for our investigation team but we are looking at all options.”
(Image: Paul Gillis / Paulgillisphoto.com)
Ch Supt Wylie said around 60 people from the original rave had set up a new one half a mile away in an open-sided barn, as of 5pm today.
He said: “We are actively clearing it, because we have sufficient resources in place now to clear the individuals who have stayed on.”
Asked if officers were handing out fines for coronavirus lockdown breaches, he replied: “That is a matter for individual officers.
“The main thrust here is to clear the site and return to normality as quickly as possible.”
Bristol Live also asked if there were any regrets over the way police handled the event.
Ch Supt Wylie said: “I think we were unlucky last night. Having identified a number of possible sites and spread resources appropriately, we were unlucky.
“Our intelligence was good and our response was good, but unfortunately we live in a very large area, which is a big challenge.
“The learning is that we need to get the public on board with us and ensure we are notified of any gatherings as soon as possible.
“There will be a retrospective investigation to prevent an event like this happening again in the future.”
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He recognises the noise was “intolerable” for people trying to sleep in the area last night.
“The organisers have treated local residents with contempt,” he added.
“They don’t really care about the people attending either. These are unlicensed events where the organisers are not interested in anyone else.”
An investigation is underway to take “appropriate action” against those responsible for the event.
Anyone with evidence should call police on 101 and quote reference 1414 of July 18.
South Western Ambulance Service has been approached for more details.