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HS2 protesters dig in despite court ruling to vacate Euston site

Siege at Euston Square Gardens continues

04 February, 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby and Tom Foot

An above ground protester is removed from the trees [Simon Lamrock]

HS2 Rebellion protesters are refusing to leave a tunnel dug beneath Euston Square Gardens despite a High Court ruling against them – and have said they will drag out the eviction for as long as possible.

The climate activists – who have entered a second week spent underground and are determined to stop trees from being felled – had applied to halt the eviction over health and safety concerns.

They had accused HS2 Limited – the company set up by the government to run its High Speed 2 railway project – of human rights violations and warned the eviction team has put the tunnellers’ lives at risk.

But at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday Mr Justice Knowles ordered the group to stop digging, give the eviction team a layout of the tunnels and to reveal exactly how many are underground.

Mr Justice Knowles called the situation “very dangerous”, but added the eviction team should reassess its strategy and give lawyers full access to the group. Demonstrators opposed to HS2 from around the country arrived in Euston to lock themselves onto the fences surrounding the gardens yesterday (Wednesday).

Others gathered with banners at the HS2 offices entrance, while a number unfurled a banner from the top of the Friends House that said: “Homes, Habitats, Health care, Human Rights, Not HS2.”

Extinction Rebellion [XR] activists dressed as HS2 contractors in orange high-vis overalls had the day before climbed on top of the HS2’s headquarters in nearby Eversholt Street unveiling a banner that said: “Essential work should heal not harm.”

Demonstrators who had been holding out in treehouses have now been removed – the last of whom was a 73-year-old woman named Marian, who was evicted on Sunday. She is pictured on our front page.

But speaking from the tunnel, Dr Larch Maxey said on Monday that the protest would go on, even though the HS2 bailiffs were “scratching at the door now” and would breach their tunnel “soon”. Despite this, occupants of the tunnels say they remain in high spirits, with 18-year-old Blue Sandford calling the tunnel protest a “resounding success”.

Described as “Britain’s Greta Thunberg”, Ms Sandford said on Tuesday: “We have a real chance to stop it and end the climate crisis.”

Underground: Blue Sandford

Newbury by-pass protester Dan Hooper – known as Swampy – told the New Journal on Sunday: “We’ll be here until the pubs open.”

News that Mr Hooper’s son, aged 16, is also in the tunnels alongside him has prompted the Town Hall to consider whether it has a “safeguarding role” to play in removing protesters from the camp.

The New Journal understands the Town Hall is in discussions with the police about the teenager’s welfare. HS2 Rebellion is a splinter group of XR which set up the camp in the park last summer in protest against the £106bn HS2 scheme – a new high-speed railway to Birmingham.

They had been secretly digging the tunnels, known as “Calvin” (sometimes “Kelvin”) and “Crystal”, for months without the knowledge of the authorities in order to thwart the coming eviction. Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has pleaded with the tunnellers to leave voluntarily.

In a statement, she added: “I am deeply concerned about the risk to the health and lives of these protesters in these tunnels – from gas and electricity supplies, from the risk of tunnel collapse and from living underground for prolonged periods. I would urge everyone still at the site in Euston Square Gardens to leave the tunnel, make themselves safe and ensure that their voices continue to be heard in the national discussion about HS2 and the climate and ecological crisis.”

The HS2 scheme was originally proposed by Labour’s Lord Andrew Adonis, the self-styled Baron of Camden Town. It is supported by both main political parties, but has found fierce opposition among people questioning the cost and need, and the damage to the environment it will cause.

The land around Euston – including the Euston Square Gardens – has been valued at £6bn and is due to be sold off to private developers once the railway has been built.

HS2 Ltd maintains its railway work will not damage the environment and will benefit society in a variety of ways. But residents in Camden – one of the worst hit areas – have not seen in that way: hundreds of homes and businesses are being demolished, while people are living through night building works and construction lorry pollution.

Public greens have been shut off and tens of thousands of graves being exhumed from an ancient burial ground. Works are expected to continue until 2036.

HS2 Ltd’s chairman, Allan Cook, announced on Tuesday that he would resign six months early, although insisted his departure was not connected to the protests.

An HS2 statement said: “HS2 has legal possession of this land, therefore the High Court Enforcement Officers are lawfully empowered to remove illegal trespassers using minimum force at this time. Our message is however that those in the tunnels should come out now for their own safety.”

It added: “If Dr Maxey does not comply with the order to leave the tunnel (or the other obligations) – he will now be in contempt of court, punishable by a fine, up to two years in prison or both. We urge Dr Maxey to comply with the order as soon as possible – for his safety and the safety of his fellow activists and the HS2 and emergency personnel tasked with removing the illegal trespassers.”

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