Hands tied, say police, as revelry blights countryside; Illegal raves are growing in popularity but disturb the peace. Robert Harries spoke to police, who revealed their difficulties in containing such events.
THE UNSPOILT countryside of Wales is supposed to be a haven of tranquillity - but that's not always the case.
Yet again, an illegal rave has disturbed the peace and caused a headache.
Following a large gathering outside Tregaron, in Ceredigion, on New Year's Eve, a team from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is involved in cleaning up the site near Cwm Berwyn - part of the Tywi Forest.
More than 200 people attended the planned event, and many more tried to gain entry to the site but were turned away by police, who had arrived to restrict access.
With Bank Holidays to come at Easter and in May, there are fears other raves could break out in picturesque parts of Wales, leading to disruption and noise pollution for residents who live in rural areas.
And police have admitted they may be powerless to stop them.
They said detecting when and where these events were going to take place was increasingly difficult as organisers used modern technology to limit the amount of information released into the public domain. One company that has organised raves in the past has been asked to comment on whether it was behind the Tregaron gathering on New Year's Eve, but has so far refused to confirm or deny any involvement.
Organisers of such events use social media, texts and an app to coordinate gatherings, telling people at short notice where an event is going to take place.
It's understood that part of a postcode is sent out to people who wish to attend, informing them of the general area where the rave will take place. Then, shortly before the event is about to start, the full location is revealed, leaving no time for police to arrive to close it down before it gets under way.
Commonly, by the time police arrive some time later the event is in full swing and the only option is to restrict entry, rather than close down the rave itself.
This is despite the fact that police do have the power to remove people from a rave site.
Section 63 of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act gives police officers the power to remove people from events at which music is being played which is "wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats".
This section applies to "a gathering on land in the open air of 100 or more persons (whether or not trespassers) at which amplified music is played during the night (with or without intermissions) and is such as, by reason of its loudness and duration and the time at which it is played, is likely to cause serious distress to the inhabitants of the locality".
However, applying this law is not easy, it seems, when officers are far outnumbered by rave attendees.
"These types of illegal events are carefully co-ordinated to avoid police attention, and organisers will always try to find new ways to avoid being found out," said Superintendent Robyn Mason, of Dyfed-Powys Police.
"Social networks make it easier for organisers to spread the word - rave attendance numbers can grow hugely in short spaces of time, and locations can change quickly.
"As a force, we have mechanisms in place to monitor the planning of illegal raves, and action is taken as soon as we gather any intelligence of an event being planned.
"We will continue to respond swiftly to reports of illegal gatherings, and where appropriate will prosecute those responsible in order to protect our communities. In this case no arrests were made, but inquiries are ongoing to establish if any offences were committed.
"Raves can cause anxiety to the community they are held in, and if not dealt with swiftly, are difficult to stop due to the sheer numbers of people involved. There is also a safety concern involved in breaking up such events.
"It is unfair that residents are made to feel anxious and uncomfortable in their own homes."
Another concern, and also a reason why police may be wary of dispersing people once a rave has begun, is people driving away from the site while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Cars were seen being driven away from the area outside Tregaron on Tuesday within a few hours of the event coming to an end. Police have admitted this is a problem and that steps are taken to make sure people "under the influence" do not drive.
"As well as the disruption caused to residents, there is also the concern of potential drink- or drug-driving taking place when raves are disrupted," added Superintendent Mason. "We work diligently to ensure that nobody turned away or asked to leave an event gets behind the wheel while intoxicated or under the influence of illegal substances." The event on Monday night was not on the same scale as one that took place in the Brechfa area of Carmarthenshire last May.
On that occasion thousands of people attended over three days, and police admitted they did not have the manpower to remove people from the site once they had congregated there, insisting the only safe thing to do was to monitor the event across the Bank Holiday weekend.
Officers from NRW were at the site on Wednesday to assess the damage done to the area, but confirmed that only a "small amount of litter" was left behind and that there was no need for a "specialist clean-up", as there was in Brechfa last year.
A spokesman for Natural Resources Wales said: "We will, as we have on this and on previous occasions, continue to work closely with the police and other emergency services regarding these illegal events where they involve our forests to try and ensure public safety and the safeguarding of the Welsh Government's woodland estate."
The demand for such gatherings seems to be increasing, with the Sunday Telegraph reporting that unlicensed music events in London alone have almost doubled in recent years.
They reported that "plans for 133 illegal raves were identified by the Metropolitan Police in 2017, up from 70 the previous year".
It's thought that the decline of licensed venues and a rise in prices at conventional nightclubs is behind this spike in interest.
The police are calling on members of the public to help them shut down these events before they get started.
Superintendent Mason added: "Farmers, landowners and communities are encouraged to report anything they feel is suspicious or out of the ordinary - for example, if there are unusual numbers of vehicles, especially camper vans, vans or trucks, seen in the locality.
"Illegal trespassers may 'recce' sites in advance of any rave, or people may approach landowners and ask around for land, in the guise of hiring it for acceptable activities such as gymkhanas or Scout camps. If you suspect anyone who approaches you for land hire might not be who they say they are, please do not hesitate to contact police.
"Working on prevention is key - this includes working out how areas can be made inhospitable to illegal gatherings."
Call 101 with concerns.
An illegal rave was held at Cwm Berwyn Forest, Tregaron, on New Year's Eve Robert Harries
The scene near the illegal rave held on New Year's Eve at Cwm Berwyn Forest