You may remember my piece written earlier this year on the “Stop Hinkley” campaign and nuclear power station development near my home here in Nether Stowey.
I thought it pertinent to pay tribute to Crispin Aubrey who has died, though not a name known to the wider public, he was an extraordinary man. I must admit his campaign has been shamefully ignored by the national media here, particularly the BBC who once prided themselves in alternative viewpoints of which Aubrey was a personification. I only ever met him in passing despite being a neighbour! In fact rather comically, the last time I spoke to him was whilst attending a training exercise on his land for last October’s demonstration.
“Would you mind not dumping your waste and weeds over your hedge into my field? The sheep don’t like it…” he said. At the time I didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. Perhaps that was a mark of his sharp sense of humour and/or the stress he was under. He must have had nerves of steel to cope with the pressure of public opinion locally, which despite dangers supports the “jobs and investments” and ignores the mostly airbrushed dangers that have been carefully hidden from view. Personally I feel this is because of the British love affair with its own invention. Other countries such as Japan and Germany certainly don’t feel the same.
Crispin always waved or nodded when I would see him around our village in passing and unlike villagers who often wave as a formality I always felt honoured to be acknowledged by him. This was mainly due to his tireless work. I remember the first time I encountered him was during my student days in the mid-nineties when I would hitchhike and he would often kindly give me a lift. I remember as I was doing my degree in Arts events it made sense to ask him about potential employment and though he mentioned Glastonbury festival, I never realized how close he was to the organisers. However, when I would receive the odd wrong number phone call asking for him from the BBC it was clear this was a man with many fingers in many pies… Despite his studious quiet persona, yearly, he would invite me to one of his family birthday parties complete with sound system, which always sounded fantastic but sadly to which I never made it. Well do I remember the peaceful blockade of Hinkley last October…It was a bright sunny day and was hotter than July! Once again I remember him directing us all as protesters along the main Bridgwater road rather like airport staff directing a plane. Once again he looked fit and well and determined as ever. His death from a heart attack seems all the more puzzling when I remember him. I suffered a heart attack in 2007 and his family’s request for donations to be given to the British heart foundation certainly strikes a personal chord with me, as does the stress that must have been involved in his work. I also well remember writing to him about the story of a man who had killed himself (I had been told) as a result of the “diggers moving in” by the site at Hinkley. In the end the case threw out any claim of the station being a motivational factor but I remember Crispin’s considerate response to see if I might know any more details in future to let him know, and for us to await what might happen at any inquest. He also mentioned how dreadful the worries were for those in the locality. It is a different image of the local peoples view from the one seen in the media.
I sincerely hope his vision of a greener safer world comes to fruition and he continues to work from wherever he now is. The fear is that that the stop Hinkley campaign will die with him. Quite why “causes” have so fallen out of the public consciousness is strange, certainly when you look back to the seventies it is. I remember his wife Sue Aubrey kindly giving me a lift to the protest last March. It was such an inspirational day. A fitting tribute would be for people to question the development of the biggest building site in Europe for ten years to come all the more. We shall see…
Here are a few details that were included in “The Guardian” British newspaper obituary recently…Certainly it seems a great shame no radio or TV documentary has ever been made. I am sure the “ABC Trial” would make an interesting TV drama…
The Guardian –
“Crispin Aubrey was a journalist, author and campaigner, who came to national prominence when he was arrested under the official secrets act in 1977. His subsequent trial and the campaign around it led to a re-examination of secrecy legislation and shone a light into some of the darker corners of the intelligence services.
His journalistic career began as a general reporter on the Hampshire Chronicle. He joined “Time Out” magazine, then in its early, radical days, in 1974. He was one of the first investigative reporters to focus on the environment and nuclear energy.
In the late 70s, Time Out became involved in exposing British and American government secrecy and dirty tricks, with the help of the dissident ex-CIA agent, Philip Agee. Agee and another Time Out reporter, the American Mark Hosenball, who had just co-authored an exposé of GCHQ, the government’s communications headquarters in Cheltenham, were served with deportation orders by the then home secretary, Merlyn Rees, “in the interests of national security”. An ultimately unsuccessful campaign to halt their expulsions was launched, with Aubrey at its forefront.
A former member of Signals Intelligence, John Berry, also outraged by the deportation orders, contacted Time Out, and Aubrey and the freelance journalist Duncan Campbell (my namesake), an expert in the field, went to interview him in north London. The Time Out phones had been tapped: the three were arrested by special branch as they left Berry’s flat, and were held in Brixton prison.
The ABC defence campaign, named after their initials, was launched with the backing of the National Union of Journalists. Elements of the case against them became farcical, with some prosecution witnesses at court hearings identified only by an initial. One of them, “Colonel B”, was cheerfully outed by campaigners singing, “Who do you think you are kidding, Colonel Johnstone, when you say you’re Colonel B?” in front of Tottenham magistrates court. Aubrey enjoyed the mischievous side of what turned out to be a long campaign.
The trial of the three took place at the Old Bailey in 1978, with Aubrey charged with unauthorised receipt of classified information.
The prosecution, chastened by a hostile media and public reaction and the defence’s disclosure that much of the supposedly secret information was already in the public domain, dropped in mid-trial the more serious charge under section one of the Official Secrets Act. The three were convicted on a lesser charge, but given non-custodial sentences and the act was severely discredited. The experience led Aubrey to write Who’s Watching You? Britain’s Security Service and the Officials Secrets Act, published in 1981.
By then, he had moved with his wife, Sue, and their young family to a smallholding in Nether Stowey in Somerset, where they farmed energetically and lived communally. He continued to work as a freelance journalist and his interest in the environment never waned.
This led to two more books, Meltdown: The Collapse of the Nuclear Dream (1991) and Thorp: The Whitehall Nightmare (1993), an account of the debate around the nuclear processing plant at Sellafield.
Always interested in alternatives, Aubrey edited the magazine of the European Wind Energy Association. In 2004, he wrote in the Guardian about how his support for wind farms in his area of Somerset brought him into conflict with neighbours who opposed them as unsightly. Despite this, he was a well-respected local figure. He was a spokesman for stop Hinkley, the campaign to halt the proposed building in Somerset which would be the largest nuclear plant in Britain. His interest in alternatives of all kinds had also led to him co-authoring the book Here Is the “Other” News: Challenges to the Local Commercial Press (1980).
From the early 90s, he was involved with the Glastonbury Festival as a press officer. With his colleague, John Shearlaw, he edited Glastonbury Festival Tales (2004). Michael Eavis, the founder of the festival, was a great admirer and described him as “a resolute campaigner for green issues who kept up the pressure on me constantly”.
A man of unswerving principle behind a genial and laidback exterior, Aubrey had a sharp sense of humour and a complete lack of self-regard. A generous host – and famed for dancing until the early hours – he was often the last man standing at any party. He took to rural life with great gusto after years of living in London and was a keen ornithologist, gardener and cyclist. He is survived by Sue, his daughters, Kate, Meg and Rosie, and four grandchildren.
• John Nicholas Crispin Aubrey, journalist and campaigner, born 3 January 1946; died 28 September 2012”
“Reproduced from the Guardian Newspaper” 2012.
A much better tribute than mine can be seen here with this superb speech.