Fields of combat

REMOTE corners of the Suffolk countryside have become one of Britain's most popular locations for raves, but police have pledged a crackdown after a 100-strong mob attacked Great Yarmouth police station.

By Tracey Sparling

REMOTE corners of the Suffolk countryside have become one of Britain's most popular locations for raves, but police have pledged a crackdown after a 100-strong mob attacked Great Yarmouth police station. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING investigates how summer turns sinister.

WORD spreads like wildfire.

In today's web-based world, forums and emails communicate in the click of a button to spread the news that a rave is brewing. In no time at all, 500 cars and upwards of 1,000 people can converge on a previously peaceful field, clearing in a forest regardless of whether it is privately owned.

“I didn't know about it until my mum phoned us at the house saying that there is a rave in the next village! Got straight outta bed and to the rave in 5 mins!” said one reveller about 2006's rave in Coney Weston, west Suffolk.

“When I lived in Reading, found out a rave was in nearby South Oxfordshire and just rode there on my pushbike,” added another forum member.

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Fast forward to this month, and witnesses described “riot scenes” with police dogs barking, and the sound of bottles smashing.

Youngsters hurled beer cans and bottles at police officers, as they tried to storm Great Yarmouth police station. The incident erupted after officers seized sound equipment destined for a rave, and young people followed the police car back to the station.

Hours later, the bloody scenes escalated even further at the scene of the rave - about two miles away on the industrial estate - as 300 revellers attacked police with bricks, bottles, cans and planks of wood stolen from a nearby yard.

Deputy chief constable Ian Learmonth described the incident as having 'really sinister elements'. Detective chief inspector Stuart Hudson, added later: “Anyone found to be organising or attending an illegal rave is breaking the law and will be firmly dealt with. Such events cause damage to land and distress to the local community and will not be tolerated in Suffolk.”

Great Yarmouth's violence follows two similar raves in recent months, which both erupted in violence towards the police. In May, revellers at a party on Parham Airfield surrounded a marked police car while the officers were still inside before destroying the vehicle and a “hostile” group sat on a patrol car as officers attempted to stop an illegal party near Euston in April.

Tensions rise as officers try to disperse revellers, arrest organisers, seize equipment, minimise damage to land and prevent disturbance to local people. Where evidence is found to identify the people responsible, they do everything possible to bring them to justice.

Clinical psychologist Dr Roy Bailey is based in Winslow, Buckinghamshire and specialises in finding the causes of antisocial behaviour. He has recently worked in Great Yarmouth on an unrelated case, and said large gatherings are a typical part of young people's development into adulthood but they can become a problem in the wrong context, when pranks and fun get replaced with violence.

Dr Bailey said: “Raves are a form of expression, for young people to say 'this is us, it's our identity - it's not about you.'

“Parents need to be making expectations and having fairly direct conversations before their children go to a rave. Instead of the young person saying 'I'll see you tomorrow if you're lucky', parents need to be saying 'You are not going to let me down tonight are you?' and agreeing 'If there's any trouble you will text me?' so there is a sense of connection to home, which urges a thread of responsibility to kick in if it needs to.”

He said the hardest thing about 'raves' is not to reinforce the belief that they equal trouble, urging people to step back and judge each event individually.

“Most people at gatherings don't regard themselves as behaving recklessly. But they might be drawn into contagious behaviour which kindles and spreads across the group, encouraged by peer pressure.

“There are some people who go out to cause difficulty - that's part of their night out and they say 'I had a great night I stabbed three people.' Then there is alcohol, rather than drugs, which can override everything as a dis-inhibitor. Somebody might say the next day 'That was right out of character for me'. When people are on amphetamines, their reactions are probably much slower and they are living in their heads although they might be swept along in what's going on.”

He said there was a point of no return, called catastrophe theory, and gave the analogy of knowing you don't want to jump off a cliff; but as you creep nearer the edge descent eventually becomes inevitable.

He urged people at raves to take a step back when they spot warning signs, like verbal hostilities being reinforced by aggressive body language, and added: “You need to ask yourself why are you going, what do you want out of this rave. If it's a good night out, the surge and the rush of the music, and to have fun that's fine, but if you want aggression you should question your motivation to go in the first place.”

October 2001: Ranelagh Road, Ipswich

August 2005: Ramsholt, and Thetford

May 2006: Coney Weston

April 2007: Euston

May 2007: Parham

June 2007: Ingham

August 2007: Great Yarmouth

The landowner

The Forestry Commission is in the process of installing more robust barriers to guard against raves on its land.

Business manager for East Anglia Mike Taylor said: “The barriers are expensive and resource heavy. It will take a while to complete this programme of work.

“Raves are a major problem for us in East Anglia - especially in Thetford Forest. Criminal damage has been caused, mainly damage to gates and barriers but at a recent rave a wooden tower was trashed. We regularly liaise with the police who have the appropriate powers to stop raves.

“These events are a significant nuisance for communities who live in and around forest locations - because sound travels significant distances and is continuous throughout the night. We receive regular complaints. Then rubbish is left on site, there is no toilet provision and you often have large numbers. In fairness, participants often attempt to collect the visible rubbish but never completely clear the site -often broken glass is left and it creates a fire risk.”

Thetford Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area under the European habitats directive, to protect rare plants and ground-nesting birds mainly woodlarks and Nightjars.

Mike said: “One event last year resulted in a significant forest fire and the loss of five hectares of forest, and two years ago a rave was held on a site in Kings Forest managed for the rapidly declining butterfly species Dingy Skipper butterflies - they have never returned.”

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