Here I am, a few weeks ago, lined up for a Viva Lewes portrait session, with James Boyce (who has kindly given permission for me to reproduce the photograph above) in Southover Bonfire Society’s fire site, pondering the mischief that will be made tonight. For those of you who don’t know about our bonfire tradition, please read my Tourist Guide to Lewes Bonfire.
This year it seems that Sussex Police are intent on creating as much mischief as possible. Their announcement that they are going to live stream their view on the event completely contradicts everything that each bonfire society has been saying for many years. Decades even. We do everything we can to discourage people from travelling to join our commemorations. What could be more irresponsible than live streaming our night? It represents a complete U-turn for the police as well because they too for years have been discouraging tourists. What better way to make an event a must go to thing than to stream it live on the internet to make people feel that they have missed something significant. It’s obvious that it will encourage people to come.
Last year Sussex Police turned their cameras on the bonfire boys and belles and ignored the really dangerous antisocial types throwing fireworks into our ordered ranks from the street and houses lining processional routes. I didn’t see a single police camera last year which was turned on the audience. I’ve spoken to many people in my society and others and heard no reports of the police filming in the direction of likely trouble. It’s worth noting that no members of Southover Bonfire Society were arrested.
Southover Bonfire Society will be leading the United Grand this year. We intend to make ourselves heard, to keep the bonfire tradition as vibrant and alive as possible. We have committed ourselves to this just cause and, as a humble Archbishop, I would like to warn Sussex Police to avoid disrupting us.
The police operate according to a hierarchy of control. Last year, to give but one example, a police liaison officer attached to Borough Bonfire Society waded into our ranks and threw unfounded accusations around. He was out of control and way out of line.
We have spent much of the last year training members of our ranks to watch the police officers we pay for. Whether they come from Sussex or elsewhere, it makes no difference. We will witness, film, record, time and geo-stamp everything you do wrong and we will pursue you relentlessly afterwards. For far too long Sussex Police have dragged us through tortuous negotiations over what they allow and then just carried on through the night as if there were no agreements anyway. Often it seems that their terse and officious manner is intended to stir up tension. Those nights have to end. Sussex Police sit now in the last chance saloon, drinking a thoughtful brew. They have to decide whether they are going to play an honourable role in our ancient proceedings or whether they want to pick a fight. It’s a fight they will lose.