CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

HS2 Euston tunnel protesters: ‘We’ll be here until the pubs reopen!’

Activist legend Swampy says groups are warm and have enough food for weeks

31 January, 2021 — By Tom Foot and Bronwen Weatherby

Swampy and Larch give a thumbs up [HS2 Rebellion]

ANTI-HS2 campaigners said they will not voluntarily leave a network of tunnels dug secretly beneath Euston Square Gardens as they entered a fifth day protesting underground.

A group of “at least” five environmental activists remain in a dramatic stand-off with a team of bailiffs employed by HS2 Ltd, the company in charge of the £106billion railway project.

Camden councillors have been warned of human rights abuses by the authorities trying to break up the camp and the Town Hall has been urged to do more to help the group.

Council leader Georgia Gould has urged authorities “dealing with this crisis to take no action that endangers lives”, while pleading with the group to come out voluntarily and “continue to be heard in the national discussion about HS2″.  

But Dan Hooper – aka ‘Swampy’ – told the New Journal: “Coming out and joining the national discussion isn’t going to work, is it? Nothing has stopped HS2 so far. We have got to keep going here and make it so embarrassing and so unpopular that the Government has to come out and say this is no longer ok.”

Speaking from a new “second down-shaft”, the legendary environmentalist said his group were in high spirits with temperatures of 12 degrees and enough food to last for several weeks, adding: “We have got to keep doing this. If people don’t say no to this kind of thing it just goes on and on.

“So many people have come together but we need more people. This kind of thing is going to bring more people.”

Mr Hooper has wide expertise in building tunnels from the famous “Battle for Newbury” protests in the 1990s. He was last to emerge from a woodland tunnel after more than a week protesting against an A30 extension around his home town.

The group has dug the tunnels in Euston Square Gardens without the council or HS2 realising it was happening. The council says it doesn’t have an official role, as the open land is owned by the Department for Transport.

Mr Hooper said: “The bailiffs got through our first tunnel door, but they have not got through the second. We’ve got at least five down here, but I don’t want to give away too much – there might be more.

“At moments it’s full on. It’s difficult because you can’t stand up or walk around. But I quite enjoy being in the tunnel. It’s such a fun crew. It’s not cold, it’s constantly a similar temperature – 12 degrees – although it can change a bit when it rains. You just need a jumper.”

“We’ve been here five days and they haven’t even cracked the ground to the ground-shaft yet. I reckon we’ll be here for five weeks, or until the pubs are open. We hope you will buy us a pint when we come out. 

“We got lots of cereal, tins and vitamins. We’ve got vitamin D supplements [because of the lack sunlight]. We might be a bit pale when we come out.”

Tree protester Mariam was arrested today [Simon Lamrock]

Arrests at the surface have been made under breach of the peace, public order and trade union act legislation.

HS2 Ltd said it had taken possession fo the site under “a lawful warrant issued by a High Court Enforcement Officer” and had issued a ‘Schedule 16 Notice to Camden Council, Network Rail and TfL for possession of the site.

Supporters outside the gardens are warning of human rights and civil rights abuses by the eviction team that is not allowing them access to water and sanitation.

Swampy said: “We had a drainage system — and that got taken away. They didn’t realise the importance of that. There were a few teething problems at the start but it’s all calmed down a bit now.

“I’m not going to moan about bailiffs. Of course they are going to try and make a grab for us occasionally. On the whole, they are trying to be fairly safe.”

Mr Hooper said the protest was designed to draw attention to, not distract from, “the huge strain HS2 is putting on the country”, adding: “It would be miles better if the money was spent on the NHS. It is absolutely a vanity project. It is the biggest deforestation since the first world war.”

The project has had a huge impact on Camden so far knocking down hundreds of homes and businesses, shutting public parks, exhuming tens of thousands of bodies, axing trees and moving a secondary school.

Most recently residents have been left unable to sleep from noisy night works carried out during the lockdown. Promised noise and air insulation has not been fitted. During the parliamentary process, before the scheme was approved in 2017, not one single objection made by a Camden resident was acted on.

Yesterday (Saturday), cherry pickers were brought in to dismantle the tower above the tunnel known as Buckingham Pallets.  Protesters in trees have been arrested today. 

A defiant tree protector [Simon Lamrock]

In a series of emails between the Labour group, Cllr Sue Vincent described the attempts to remove the protesters as “appalling and horrifying at all levels”. While Cllr Roger Robinson has said the dismantling of the camp “cannot be allowed”.

HS2 Rebellion campaigner Leo Smith said: “What is happening there is infringement of Human Rights and Civil Rights: Removal of shelter, no access to sanitation, limiting access to food and water.  One of the people in the tree is a 73-year-old woman.

“HS2 and the NET are fully aware of this but have no care for health, wellbeing or even human life it seems. Right now I would like someone from Camden Council to do something.”

The 73-year-old woman, named as Marion, has now been arrested and taken to Holborn police station.

Cherry pickers used to arrest protesters in trees [Simon Lamrock]

 A statement from HS2 Rebellion today added: “Earth protectors in the tunnel are doing well and are in high spirits on day 5. They wish to say that they are missing their loved ones greatly and that they are so very thankful for all their support over this past week.”

The National Eviction Team has been contacted today for a comment. Yesterday, it said in a statement: “The unlawful activists appear to have put themselves in danger of a further tunnel collapse, and potentially of intercepting nearby gas and water pipes, leading to risks of suffocation, flooding and drowning.”

A HS2 spokesperson said: “When taking possession of land and removing illegal trespassers, the safety of all concerned is always HS2’s first priority. The clearance of Euston Square Gardens has required careful planning and dangerous work by highly-skilled experts to try and remove protestors from perilous situations in trees and underground.

“The activists at Euston have dug a crude and poorly-constructed tunnel. In the past 24 hours the weather conditions have worsened and further heavy rain and sleet is forecast, which could lead to the tunnel becoming even more unstable.

“We are concerned that the occupants of the tunnel are now impeding efforts to help them, shutting themselves off underground, and preventing us from checking air quality as we supply them with air. As carbon-dioxide can build up in the tunnel, they are putting themselves in even greater danger.

“Highly-experienced and specialist skilled professionals are leading this operation. HS2, paramedics and the Metropolitan Police have all spoken to those in the tunnel to warn them of the dangers they have put themselves in, but still they refuse to come out. The London Fire Brigade have attended site to prepare any rescue plans. 

“These activists have had multiple opportunities to remove themselves from the danger they have put themselves in. For their own safety and the safety of our staff and the emergency service personnel at Euston, we urge them to get out of the tunnel.”

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