HS2 protesters condemn ‘dangerous’ efforts to evict them from tunnels

Anti-HS2 protesters say efforts to evict them from tunnels under a small central London park are “dangerous” as they prepare to spend a sixth night underground.

Environmental campaigners have dug a network of tunnels beneath Euston Square Gardens, next to Euston station, in a bid to protect the green space which they claim will be built over with a temporary taxi rank before being sold to developers as part of plans for the high-speed railway.

A spokesman for HS2 Rebellion, an alliance of groups and individuals campaigning against HS2, said bailiffs were “digging constantly” as part of attempts to remove the activists from the fenced-off site.

The protest group shared two clips apparently filmed by activists underground on Monday afternoon.

In one, a protester confronts a man in a helmet, face mask and wearing a head torch, about digging a “parallel tunnel” on the other side of a metal grille.

She says: “I’m aware that’s very risky for health and safety, major health and safety breaches parallel tunnels.”

The man replies: “I didn’t realise you have a tunnelling qualification to your name actually. Well I have, thank you, and I know exactly what I’m doing.”

The activist says: “Since you started digging the ceilings are starting to go, so can you tell me why you’re engaging in dangerous practices?”

HS2 project
HS2 project

In another clip, an unnamed male protester says campaigners are having a “great time” in the tunnels, with games and books to fill the time.

He adds: “But this side shaft that they are digging is real dangerous.”

Earlier on Monday activist Larch Maxey, speaking to the PA news agency by phone from the tunnels, said: “Conditions are good.

“They are warm. They are a bit moist, there’s a little bit of water coming in, but it’s not too bad.

“Our spirit is really good, we’re all working really well together and really grateful to take this stand.”

HS2 Rebellion confirmed there were nine activists in the tunnels, including Mr Maxey, 18-year-old Blue Sandford, and individuals named as “Digger Down” and “Lazer”.

They also included veteran environmental campaigner Swampy, real name Daniel Hooper, and his son Rory.

Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell told the Sun newspaper that Swampy was “reckless and irresponsible” for allowing his reportedly 16-year-old son to be in the tunnels.

A statement shared by HS2 Rebellion hit back at Mr Mitchell for “cynically” criticising a “brave father-son team”.

Mr Maxey, 48, a former geography lecturer and post-doctoral researcher, claimed efforts to evict the group were “unlawful”.

HS2 project
HS2 project

He said: “This is our home, we’re in a Covid pandemic, they shouldn’t be carrying out an eviction.

“We’re in a climate and ecological emergency. We have a right to protest and stop that happening.

“It’s an unlawful eviction and it’s being carried out in an unlawful way because they are not following safety protocols and the due process, making sure it’s safe for everyone.”

He claimed the tunnels were “safe” but change by bailiffs “increases the risk to us”.

It is understood protesters are considering legal action over concerns for their safety.

An HS2 Ltd spokeswoman said: “The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has reviewed the operations to safely remove the activists.

“They reviewed our safe system of work and the qualifications and competencies of the eviction team there.

“The HSE inspector made no immediate observations during the visit as to improvements we need to make and we continue to plan and work to safely remove the activists.

“HS2 Ltd and our contractors undertaking this operation have met frequently with the HSE and will continue to do so until this challenging situation is resolved.”

HS2 project
HS2 project

An HSE spokesman said: “HSE is aware of the protest and is in liaison with HS2 in order to review any plans that would affect workers, protesters or rescue personnel.”

Mr Maxey said protesters been denied “all food and water” but still had supplies to last “months”.

He said: “We’ve certainly been denied all food and water and often have not been able to pass on our waste either.

“It would be very good to have more to ensure we have healthy fresh food and water.”

No activists could be seen above ground at the protest site on Monday.

A fence surrounds the muddy Euston Square Gardens which features piles of debris, while a scaffolding and wood structure remains standing.

Security, enforcement officers and a small police presence were at the scene throughout the day. A small group of drummers gathered outside the site in the afternoon.

Some men in high-visibility jackets could be seen digging a hole in the ground on the site, while enforcement officers appeared to spread a tarpaulin over the top of the scaffolding structure.