How a young Keir Starmer defended Druid human rights at Stonehenge…

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer was instrumental in religious freedom of expression at Stonehenge, a senior Druid remembers.

Pagan priest King Arthur Pendragon – whose legal name is Arthur Pendragon – has stood as an independent candidate for the Salisbury constituency in every general election since 2010 on a single-issue ticket to protect Stonehenge.

The world heritage site will fall into the new East Wiltshire constituency at the next general election, and the 70-year-old said he intends to challenge Mr Starmer’s party at the ballot box once again.

However, 25 years ago, the two, rather surprisingly, were working together…

In 1994, the Conservative Government passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, placing restrictions on the right to protest and freedom of assembly, including the criminalisation of some forms of trespass.

At Stonehenge, this meant gatherings within five miles of 20 or more people would be banned during the Summer Solstice, a special day in the Druid calendar, when they gather at the sacred stones.

The move was criticised by King Arthur, who had already been forced to move his annual Druidic ceremony to the side of the A344, after the main stones were closed to the public in 1985.

Forcing him completely off the site was a step too far, he decided, so he ignored them, and was arrested in 1995.

As his case progressed, King Arthur was put in touch with an up-and-coming young human rights lawyer who it was suggested might be able to help. A certain Keir Starmer.

The 32-year-old Mr Starmer jumped at the chance to champion King Arthur’s cause as he vowed to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.

He completed the work pro bono (for free).

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Writing in the spring 1995 edition of Socialist Lawyer, he celebrated the Druid’s use of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects freedom of religion.

“King Arthur 1, Michael Howard 0,” he said, using a football metaphor critical of Conservative cabinet ministers, a tactic that would become a staple of his future political communications.

The outcome “paved the way for the managed open access we have had since and until the present day”, King Arthur said.

“As a young barrister, Keir was a very personable and successful civil rights lawyer,” he went on.

He suggests Mr Starmer was so effective the Government felt threatened and consequently offered him the prestigious role as director of public prosecutions (DPP).

But his political stance in the ensuing decades has not impressed King Arthur.

“As for his ability to lead the country, from what I have seen since he took over from Jeremy Corbyn, his style is not so much the leader of his majesty’s most loyal opposition as the leader of his majesty’s most loyal supporters,” the senior druid said.

“As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the Government still gets in.

“You really would be hard pressed to get a cigarette paper between them, and that’s much the same for the other parties.

“Which is why it’s time for change and I am standing as an independent.

“By, for, and of the people, not by, for and of the party.

“For only an independent can back a good idea or oppose a bad one, whichever side of the house it comes from.”

So when a general election is finally called, remember a time when the potential prime minister was standing alongside this independent candidate in Wiltshire.

Not at the ballot box, but before a court, protecting Druid rights at Stonehenge.

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