People's Assemblies Network

Freedom Under Law at Runnymede?


Diggers2012 ( see ) and ‘Persons Unknown’ (meaning anyone in the known universe) have been served with court papers.  Despite the fact that there are no tents, structures or other items on their land, The National Trust is seeking an order for possession and an injunction prohibiting trespassing from a large area of land (over 200 acres) including parts of the ‘Runnymede’ and ‘Ankerwycke’ Estates (which is managed by the National Trust).  The case will be heard in Slough County Court this Thursday, 13th September at 12 Noon.

 Our Eco-village is situated on the disused land on the ex-Brunel university Runnymede campus owned by a private housing developer.  As such the possession order requiring vacant possession of the land where the NT claim seems pointless.  We have no tents on the piece of land that the NT are referring to.  What carries greater ramifications is the fact that the NT are also requesting a ‘perpetual final injunction’ (meaning forever) to prevent Diggers2012 and ‘Persons Unknown’ from ‘trespassing further on the Runnymede Estate and the National Trust’s land at Ankerwycke’.  The Runnymede Estate is home to the Magna Carta monument, marking the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215.  Consequently Runnymede is regarded as the birthplace of modern democracy.  If granted this injunction would allow the National Trust to use ‘reasonable force’ to remove anyone deemed to be trespassing on or around the historic site of the Magna Carta.  This is ironic when considering the association of this location with ideals of democracy, limitation of power, equality and freedom under law.

One reason the witness on behalf of the NT gives for requesting an injunction concerns an extract from our website from minutes of a ‘Diggers discussion’ that took place at the Magna Carta Memorial on Saturday 30th June 2012 (page viewable here).  The witness statement states:  ”On their website, the Defendants have set out plans for a three year occupation campaign to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.”  What the minutes actually said was:  ”strategic planning to build over the next three years towards 2015 and creating a massive event for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (which has inspired ‘democracy’ and civil rights across the world).”  This was an idea to create a grass roots gathering at the Runnymede site in 2015 to celebrate the idea of freedom and civil liberties. It contained no specific reference to use of tents or occupation.

One only has to glimpse at the website setup by the Magna Carta Trustto see that the authorities wish to shape the commemoration of the sealing of the Magna Carta in their image.  The website states: ”The 800th anniversary of the sealing af Magna Carta will be a commemoration of national and international significance… a large number of high-profile events are being planned.”  Last year it was announced the Queen has agreed to become patron of the Magna Carta Trust for the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15th June 2015.  Perhaps the prospect of a rabble of common people turning up at the same time as dignitaries to commemorate the same event has irked the authorities and lead to this legal action.  Whatever the reason, the effect of such an injunction if authorized will be to grant the National Trust the power to forcibly remove anyone who they do not want on the land at Runnymede forever.

In the Magna Carta Lecture which took place this year at Royal Holloway University, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, defined law as ”as all those protocols that stop society being run exclusively in the interests of whatever group happens to be dominant at any moment, and that thus guarantee fairness and redress independently of status or power.”    Here in Runnymede, where the notion of modern law, justice and equality are said to have sprung from, you could be forgiven for thinking that the law may reflect Rowan William’s definition. And yet the reverse appears to be true.  Instead we find a minority of land owning elites hold almost total power of over access to the thing whose life we all depend on: the land.

Those of us here at Runnymede Eco-Village have become quite used to breaking the laws as a by-product of simply trying to live on disused land in a low impact and harmless way.   We will carry on doing what we think is just as the primary guide over and above these laws.  Stay tuned 8)



  1. Pingback: Freedom Under Law at Runnymede? | OccuWorld


    * The UK has 60 million acres of land in total.
    * 70% of the land is owned by 1% of the population.
    * Just 6,000 or so landowners — mostly aristocrats, but also large institutions and the Crown — own about 40 million acres, two thirds of the UK.
    * Britain’s top 20 landowning families have bought or inherited an area big enough to swallow up the entire counties of Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire, with more to spare.
    * Big landowners measure their holdings by the square mile; the average Briton living in a privately owned property has to exist on 340 square yards.
    * Each home pays £550/ann. on average in council tax while each landowning home receives £12,169/ann. in subsidies. The poor subsidising the super rich. In Ireland where land redistribution occurred, there is no council tax.
    * A building plot, the land, now constitutes between half to two- thirds of the cost of a new house.



    This is a remarkable and original survey of landownership in Britain and Ireland, detailed county by county.
    For Britain, Cahill analyses this landownership, showing how a tiny minority exploits British society.

    160,000 families, 0.3% of the population, own 37 million acres, two thirds of Britain, 230 acres each.

    Just 1,252 of them own 57% of Scotland.

    They pay no land tax. Instead every government gives them £2.3 billion a year and the EU gives them a further £2 billion. Each family gets £26,875.

    By contrast, 57.5 million of us pay £10 billion a year in council tax, a land tax, £550 per household. We live in 24 million homes on about four million acres. 65% of homes are privately owned, so 16 million of us own just 2.8 million acres, an average 0.18 acres each.

    The top landowners are the Forestry Commission, 2.6 million acres, the Ministry of Defence 750,000, the royal family 670,000 (including the Crown Estate 400,000 and the Duchy of Cornwall 141,000), the National Trust 550,000, insurance companies 500,000, the utility companies 500,000, the Duke of Buccleuch 270,700, the National Trust for Scotland 176,287, the Dukedom of Atholl 148,000, the Duke of Westminster 140,000 and the Church of England 135,000.

    The Forestry Commission, Britain’s biggest single landowner, runs its holdings conservatively and secretively. We could expand the forest estate by a million acres a year, producing rural jobs, getting profits from the sale of wood and pulp (cutting our balance of payments deficit) and reducing the output of greenhouse gases. This would cost between £588 million and £750 million.

    Through the 18th century enclosures, the landowning class stole eight million acres from the people. They still hide their crimes and their takings. The 1872 Return of Owners of Land was made, but then hidden and never updated. Shares have to be registered; land doesn’t. The Land Registry does not know who owns between 30 and 50% of land.

    Cahill compares Britain with other countries where revolutions have ended the feudal tenure of land. Denmark redistributed its land to the peasantry in 1800. In Ireland, in 1876, 616 landowners owned 80% of the country. By 1930, 13 million acres of Ireland’s 20 million acres had been sold to owner-occupiers. Now, there are no landlords – home ownership is 82%, Ireland’s 149,500 farms are 97% owner-occupied and owner-farmed, there is no poll tax, water is free and pensioners get free transport, TV and glasses.

    Cahill claims that Blair’s reform of the House of Lords “definitively cut the permanent link between power and the landowners.” But just as in 1872, the state is defending landed capital by making it less visible. Class power does not depend on sitting in the House of Lords, but on private ownership of the means of production, protected and subsidised by a capitalist state. The Greens, like the heritage lobby, shield the landowners against public ownership of the land.

    The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says its mission is to shift EU subsidies from food production to land management, but the EU already does this, with its £2 billion annual subsidy to the landowners, not to working farmers. We need to produce our own food: food production is in our national strategic interest. It is a national security issue that must not be determined either by the EU or by the market.

    Landowners’ wealth is a parasite on Britain, the least productive part of the economy, with the most state support. Their wealth comes not from farming, nor even from renting, but from trickling land onto the urban housing market. They sell land to property developers, at an average price per acre of £404,000 in 1999. The clearing banks and building societies strip our industries of investment capital, then support their clients the landowners by running the rigged and overpriced land market.

    Britain needs land reform. “Windfall gains on development land should be made subject to windfall taxes.” We should also tax land and stop the owners avoiding tax through offshore trusts; this could raise £17 billion. The European Convention of Human Rights says there should be no confiscation without compensation. Haven’t landowners had enough compensation already? We need more land for housing. This would cut land prices, free more to invest in good quality, spacious homes and gardens, and revive the building industry.

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