The Sharpness Action – July 1979.

For many years I have told the story about going up a dock
yard crane.

This is the first time that I have ever written about just what
went wrong upon the action, and just how it effected me.

Of necessity this is very much a personal account.

To my knowledge there has never been any academic account
of the action.


July 4th 1979.

This was a direct action that took place in a dock yard where
low level nukiller waste was being loaded on to a ship to be
dumped at sea.

It was one of those actions upon where every part of the
planning went wrong.

Some of us on the action had never meet before, and there was
no attempt to do any NVDA training before we set out for the

Most of us on the action were stopped and held by the police
on the way to the docks.
& thus no one landed up in the place they were supposed to be.

It also involved going up a dock yard crane,
and the unplanned action of various people sitting in front of
a dock side train.

Needless to say,
& whatever the intention ,
the whole concept of support people and affinity groups did
not come in to play.

Various people who had never intended to climb up the cranes
were on them when the police started to carry away everyone
else who was in the area,
and then the real fun bit kicked in to place….

What Went Wrong.

The action was part of a campaign by the Seven Side Alliance
to stop drums of low Level nukiller waste being loaded upon a
ship at Sharpness Docks and then dumped at sea.

The Seven Side alliance was made up of Anti-nukiller groups.
The largest of which were from Stroud & Bristol.

A small demonstration had taken place at docks during the
loading of the boat during 1978,
but only by people from Stroud and the immediate area.

I had meet some of the people who were going to take place on
the action before, but many of us on the action had only meet
for the first time the night before.

Of necessity the group in Stroud undertook a coordinating
roll on the action,
and so most of the planning for the meeting was as much of a
briefing about what had been done so far in preparation for
the action as anything else.

Thus we had to rely very heavily upon the local knowledge of
those who lived within the Stroud area.

There was no Nonviolent training for the action,
and no thoughts were given about any contingency planning.

As an aside:
It might also noted that such NVDA (Nonviolent Direct Action)
training which had taken place in the UK during the 1970s,
was aimed towards running demonstrations,
rather than this kind of more dramatic action.

It was the people who were supposed to be doing some of the
support rolls that could not get away from Stroud:
because the vehicle they were in started to malfunction.

None of us from outside of the area were provided with a maps
of the area,
though I do recall been shown a sketch map of the docks.

We only ever managed to get something like an hour & half
sleep upon the floor before setting out for the action.

Being stopped by the police and held for 1hour & 40 minutes
on the way to the docks was something that had never built in
to the planning scenario.

Neither had we ever dreamed that we would have to push a
police vehicle along the road after we were released.
This was due to the police vehicle having run down its
batteries while we being held in the middle of a very narrow
country lane.

Once released and overlooking the docks we expected the
place to be full of the police,
but the first of them only turned up some 20 minutes after we
entered the docks.

It had also been decided that a press release would be put out
at the time we were scheduled to arrive at the docks, but no
one had thought about what would happen if this action was

Thus one of the group had to make a phone call to make sure
that this call was not made until we had entered the docks.

It was at that stage that things seemed to take on their own

No one had though about checking out if anyone who planned
to go on the action might just happen to suffer from vertigo.

When we entered the docks it was still early dawn,
and everyone who was with me just wanted to go run for a
crane and climb up it.

At that stage I just froze.

It must of been some sort of self preservation instinct that
kicked in. Though in retrospect that seems like it being very
sensible indeed.

No one had any hard hats, slip proof footwear, life jackets, or
any kind of safety harnesses with them.

These were the days before anyone ever really gave much
consideration to health and safety issues.

Later on others arrived everyone at the docks and went up on
to the cranes, and then down to the dockside again:
– Myself included.

Thus when the docks was cleared by the police: –
No one was in the position that they had planned to at.

The dockyard train turning up hauling the drums of nukiller
waste was an unexpected occurrence.

No one had given any thought as to what might be done if this
might happen, and thus the sit down in front of the dockside
railway train was a totally spontaneous action.

After this happened those on the sit down were carried on by
the police & dumped down the road.

At this stage there was one on the action who had any list
names of who was were still in the docks,
or any contact addresses for them if things went wrong.

We had all left our bags in a house in Stroud, as a just in case,
and the only really useful phone number I had was that of a

This being in the era before mobile phones, it was only the
public phone near to the docks that was available for us to

There was also no local contacts that we could call upon for
help within the Sharpness village.

When the police cleared the docks and carried away those
who did the sit down there was only one guy from Stroud and
myself to do any contact work with others.

When the guy from Stroud went off to chase the police car
that had driven off with those who had sat in front of the
dockyard train, it left me as the only person to observe what
was going on at the dock yard gate.

It might also be noted that no real thought had been given
about how we might record the action. I had the only camera
on the dockside, and thus I took the only photos which exist of
this event.
( The photos are now with my archive at the IISH in Amsterdam. )

Within the next couple of hours a lot of local supporters
turned up, as did some of the press.

While the docks were closed to us outsiders,
and people were on the cranes,
there was a lot of people milling in front of the dock gates.

As vehicle went in or out of the dock gates people were sitting
down in the road,
but the police would just pick them up and dump them on to the
grass verge.

It happened so many times that those of us who were by the
gate became very blase about the whole thing.

Yet again this was an unplanned for action.

Something else which had not been planned for,
was a small boat which got in docks and was apprehended.

As luck would have it no one was arrested that day,
but those on the cranes were held by the police before being

Getting back from the action.

How we might all get back from the action to pick up our bags
was something else which had been overlooked,
Thus it was just a matter of luck who was around and able to
give us a lift back to Stroud.

To this day I have no idea just how one would make the Journey
from Sharpness to Stroud by bus.

In the evening I went back on the bus with the group who were
from Bristol.

I was staying at Bristol at the time.

You can imagine just how tired we all were by that stage.

What happened on the Friday.

The demonstration on the Friday involved just a small number
of people.

While one group of people held a symbolic protest at one side
of the docks,
another small group went in to the docks from the other end.

The intention was that the group who got in to the docks
would chain themselves on to the lock gate which gave the
ships access to the River Seven.

If the idea of people chaining them selves to the dockyard lock
gate had taken place, then we may of had some of the same kind
of logistical problems to face as a few days earlier.

Yet again no one who had volunteer to undertake this action
was wearing a hard hat, life jacket, life jacket, or safety

I didn’t volunteer to take part in this action as I’m not a

After that week there was no follow up meetings for those of
us who were upon the action,
No follow on support too .

With just 3 exceptions,
I never meet any one else who was on the action from that
week on.

When I got back to London on the weekend there was no real
immediate emotional support awaiting me,
and no one who was near me with whom I should share this as a
common experience with.

What I did find that helped me was to write a long account of
the action which appeared in the Anarchist Periodical
Freedom – July 28th 1979 .


The next year there was another action just outside of

A scaffolding tower was placed upon the small railway line
just outside of the docks. This held up the transportation of
the nukiller waste drums to the ship.

In 1981 the dumping of nukiller waste was suspended,
and has never been resumed.

My own take upon being involved within any NVDA as a result
of being on the Sharpness Action.

While this account might be a good one to show just was might
go wrong on an action,
and thus show the need for some proper contingency
there is also something else which needs to be said.

It is not just the need for proper planning,
and NVDA training for an action which needs to be considered.

It is the follow up,
and follow up support for those who take part in actions
which really needs to be worked upon by those who engage
upon NVDA.

The Sharpness Action.

The Shapness Action was a Nonviolent Airect Action that
many people know nothing about.

Sharpness Docks is at the enterence to the Gloucester Canal.

It was there on the Fourth of July 1979 that I took part in an
action which held up the loading of low level nukiller waste
which was destined to be dumped at sea.

It was this action, and the following one in 1980,
which focused a lot of attention upon the issue of how
nukiller waste was being dumped at sea,
and helped to stop this practice.

While the action managed to generate a lot of publicity upon
the issue, there were many unplanned aspects to it.

These included:

– being held by the police on the way to the docks.

– Having no one in their pre-planned locations when the
shipment was transported in to the docks.


– A spontanious sit down in front of the dock yard train.

I wrote a long report upon this action which appeared in the
Anarchist paper Freedom on July 28th 1979.

The photos I took during the action are now with my archive at
the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

I recently wrote a long analytical piece about just what
happened on the action,
or just what went wrong at the time.

I’ll write more upon this subject once this article is published