2021-01-27 22:36:54 UTC
Protesters secretly constructed two tunnels supported by an elaborate “ant
nest” of passages without detection near the site of HS2, embarrassing the
security operation surrounding Britain’s biggest infrastructure project.
Climate campaigners protesting against the construction of the
multibillion-pound railway line spent months digging 100ft of passages and
chambers 15ft below Euston Square Gardens in north London.
They moved dirt from the two main tunnels, codenamed Crystal and Kelvin, to
the surface with buckets and hid it in the walls of their makeshift wooden
fort. The entrance is concealed from public view by the planks and
tarpaulin that form the main structure of the camp.
HS2 officials learnt about the tunnels early this morning after securing
temporary legal possession of the site from the landowners and sending in
about 100 bailiffs to evict dozens of activists living in treetops, tunnels
and the main compound.
A large number of activists were removed around 4.30am, prompting about
eight people to retreat underground with food, sleeping mats, battery packs
and juggling balls. The group sealed the entrance and vowed to continue
digging in an attempt to delay development as much as possible. The group
was led by the veteran activist Swampy, real name Daniel Hooper, who was
described by campaigners as a “master digger”.
Others fled to four tree houses, which they move between using zip lines.
However, most had been removed by bailiffs by about 2pm. Some who were
caught on the ground were dragged off the site.
Camden council, the former landowner, initially suggested it was not
responsible for failing to spot the tunnels, saying that ownership of the
site had been taken over by Network Rail. However, after Network Rail said
it was not responsible for managing the site, the council admitted it had
not noticed the digging during assessments of the camp.
A Camden Council spokesman said: “We were not aware these tunnels were
being built. Clearly the protesters have a responsibility themselves not to
act in ways which could endanger their lives.”
An HS2 spokeswoman said: “To ensure HS2 is able to deliver its major
benefits to the UK on time, certain works must take place at designated
times. HS2 has taken legal temporary possession of Euston Square Gardens
East in order to progress with works necessary for the construction of the
new Euston station.
“These protests are a danger to the safety of the protestors, our staff and
the general public, and put unnecessary strain on the emergency services
during a pandemic. The protesters are currently trespassing on land that is
legally possessed by HS2.”
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “We have only been involved
today in order to prevent breach of peace. Any questions regarding the
tunnels would need to be directed to the landowner and security firm.
“Six arrests have been made at the site of a protest in Euston Square
Gardens. One man was arrested for breach of the peace and a short time
later was de-arrested and released.
“A woman was arrested under the Trade Union and Labour Relations
(Consolidation) Act. One man was arrested under the Public Order Act, while
a further three men were arrested under the Health Protection (Coronavirus)
Regulations 2020. A police presence remains at the site to prevent further
potential breaches of the peace and to uphold Covid legislation.”
HS2 Rebellion, an alliance of activists who made the camp, spent months
burrowing “in secret” under the park.
“It’s not just one straight shaft down there, it’s like an ant nest with
lots of different routes,” one activist who dug 20ft of the tunnel said.
“The aim is to make it very complicated to delay the development as much as
possible. They are still digging now.”
The activists set up a Tree Protection Camp in the park in September after
warning that Euston Square Gardens would be replaced with a temporary taxi
rank before being sold off to developers.
“It will take them a week to get people down and out of the tunnels. The
guys in the trees are supplied with ‘squirrel food’ – canned food and nuts
– so they can stay up there for ages.”
The alliance of climate campaigners said that the tunnellers had worked
“around the clock” to create the tunnel network, which is codenamed Calvin,
and were prepared to occupy it “for as long as it takes to stop HS2”.
A spokesman said: “They believe they can hold out in the tunnel for several
weeks and hope in this time that a court will rule against HS2 for breaking
the law by attempting an eviction without a court order and during the
national coronavirus lockdown.”