‘Heavy handed’ Glastonbury guards break up U2 protest

Lara Gould – Daily Mail June 26, 2011

Glastonbury organisers were accused yesterday of using heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators who tried to embarrass U2 during the rock group’s debut at the festival.

Activists from protest group Art Uncut made their point by unfurling a 25-metre inflatable balloon bearing the slogan ‘U pay tax 2?’ in front of the 50,000 fans watching the band perform on the festival’s Pyramid Stage.

Friday’s protest was directed at U2’s 2006 decision to cut their tax bill by moving their business affairs from Ireland to the Netherlands.

The year before, the Irish government had imposed a cap on generous tax breaks under which performers in the Republic previously benefited.

Irish politicians called it a cynical tax-avoidance ploy by the world’s highest-earning musicians, who last year raked in about £80 million.

Members of the 30-strong group of activists, who were aged between 18 and 35 and included a teacher, artists and musicians, said within minutes of the unveiling they were set upon by security guards, who pinned protesters to the wall and left one, 23-year-old Claudia Stevens, with a broken finger.

Steven Taylor, a 26-year-old graphic designer who was among those holding the balloon, said: ‘There were cheers when the crowd saw the message. This was always going to be a peaceful  protest and we made that clear.

‘But after about two minutes security guards came. They pulled the balloon to the ground and we tried to take it from them because it cost us about £1,000. Some people ended up being chucked against the wall. One girl had her finger broken.’

Art Uncut, which lists poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy among its supporters, said in a message on its website: ‘We want to send a message to U2 that their approach to tax is not acceptable.’

But yesterday, as he ate lunch with his entourage, flanked by seven security guards, U2 frontman Bono said: ‘I’m all for protests. I’ve been protesting all of my life. I’m glad they got the chance to have their say. But, as it happens, what they’re protesting about is wrong.’

A Glastonbury spokesman last night played down the incident, saying: ‘There was an agreement for them to have their inflated banner as long as it wouldn’t obstruct the view. We requested Art Uncut to take it down after two songs and security deflated the balloon. There was no instruction of heavy-handedness or restriction. The inflatable has been returned to them.’

Despite the skirmishes, U2 continued their set. Viewers watching the coverage on the BBC would not have seen the protest after the Corporation opted not to screen it. Natasha Cox, a spokeswoman for Art Uncut, said: ‘The BBC don’t want to be seen as political.’

The BBC said: ‘Friday night’s Glastonbury coverage focused on the band. There was no editorial decision not to show the minor anti-U2 protest.’

The intervention by security after U2′s opening song Until The End Of The World sparked angry clashes with 30 or more protesters.

One security guard told a photographer to ‘go away’, adding: ‘If you are press, I’ll have you.’

Several protesters were pinned against a fence near the Pyramid Stage after attempting to hold on to the balloon. There were no arrests.

One of the campaign group members said: ‘That was totally over the top. He threatened to hit me.’

Another said: ‘Political activism used to belong at Glastonbury. This was all going to be completely peaceful.’

A handful of U2 fans looked on open-mouthed and booed as the security guards swooped.

Gary Noble, 45, from Eastbourne, said: ‘It was all a bit shocking. I love U2 but I think everyone should pay their taxes. The campaigners have a right to voice their opinion.’

U2 rattled on through their set of smash hits, with the only inconvenience for Bono being the rain fogging up his trademark sunglasses.

Art Uncut had been hoping to spark debate around big-earning stars’ duty to pay taxes in their native country.

Campaigner Charlie Dewar said: ‘U2′s multi million-euro tax dodge is depriving the Irish people at a time when they desperately need income to offset the Irish government’s savage austerity programme.

‘Tax nestling in the band’s bank account should be helping to keep open the hospitals, schools and libraries that are closing all over Ireland.

‘Bono is well-known for his anti-poverty campaigning but Art Uncut is accusing him of hypocrisy.’

The opening night of major acts, which saw revellers drenched in rain for the third day running, proved to be one of political activism.

Morrissey had drawn cheers from the audience after calling Prime Minister David Cameron a ‘silly twit’ for opposing an outright ban on wild animals in circuses.

Rock Gods – And Savvy Investors

U2’s members are worth almost £1 billion between them through savvy investments. The band was one of the first music successes to obtain all rights to its music.

Frontman Bono, 51, and lead guitarist The Edge, 49, each own 25 per cent of Dublin’s Clarence Hotel. Bono, who has a £300 million stake in Facebook and a £220 million share in media company Forbes Media LLC, owns properties worth more than £30 million. 

Meanwhile, The Edge has a £30 million Californian mansion; bassist Adam Clayton, 51, has a £12.5 million house in London plus a home near Nice, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr, 49, owns properties in upstate New York and the French Riviera worth a total of £30 million.

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