‘If the choice which the country has to make is between well-trained forces on the one hand and sacrificing your pony rides on the other … where would you like the government to make the choice?’
That was the first, and the only, question I was asked in cross-examination at my first public inquiry. It was 40 years ago today, 11 December 1975 and the inquiry was into the continuation of military training in the Dartmoor National Park (see earlier blog). My adversary was the golden-locked Konrad Schiemann, the fierce Ministry of Defence barrister.
In 2003 I was before Mr Schiemann again. Now he was a bewigged appeal-court judge. He and his fellow judges ruled in my favour in my case against East Sussex County Council for failing to reopen the infamous, blocked, ‘Hoogstraten’ path. I am eternally grateful to him and his colleagues for their judgment, and I have often wondered whether, 28 years on, he remembered our previous encounter.
I took an old-fashioned cassette recorder to the military inquiry and managed to record my cross-examination. Later I transcribed it. This is what what was said.
KS If the choice which the country has to make is between well-trained forces on the one hand and sacrificing your pony* rides on the other and the right of other people who like to do the same things as you do, if that’s the choice that has to be made, where would you like the government to make the choice? (*a note of scorn on the word ‘pony’)
KA This is a hypothetical question because there is no such choice.
KS Having said that, let me assume that my hypothetical question has some substance. What would you then say?
KA But really it’s not a choice that one would ever have to make.
KS You must conceive, must you not, that a possible answer to which Lady Sharp and the government could come [is] that the evidence given by General Pounds is correct and that to clear the forces off Dartmoor would severely damage the training capacity. That must be a possible answer to which we could come. Do you concede that?
KA But there are other areas which we are not allowed to consider in this inquiry [because it was unfairly limited to alternatives in the South West], and I trust that there will be another inquiry soon so that we can consider them.
KS I see that entirely. Take it in stages please. Do you agree that it is a possible answer to which Lady Sharp could come, that the mere displacement of the forces from Dartmoor without finding an alternative area would severely damage the defence forces’ training capacity?
KA Only a temporary answer as I think we heard yesterday, due to the defence cuts.
KS We’ve taken on board Lady Sayer’s discursions of the defence policy, but you accept, don’t you. that this is a possible view to be taken. Merely to clear the forces off Dartmoor in itself isn’t good enough, one would have to find an alternative site? Correct?
KS Well, supposing no alternative sites could be found and one is left with a choice between damaging the forces’ defence capacity, and damaging the walkers and pony riders of Dartmoor. Where would your choice be?
KA But you haven’t yet looked for alternative sites outside the area. We haven’t yet considered that.
KS Will you answer the question? Supposing the choice is you have to choose between damaging people’s moorland walks and damaging the defence capacity of the country? Where would your choice be?
KA Well Dartmoor is a national park and I think the importance of a national park comes above anything.
KS That is my point. There is a view to be taken and that’s the view you have chosen. If the choice has to be made, you consider the concepts of a national park ought to be supreme.
KA I do consider that a hypothetical question.
And thus ended the session. Schiemann abandoned the quest, and I felt triumphant—although of course it didn’t add up to a row of beans because the military got their way in any case.