The final anti-HS2 activist has been pulled from a network of tunnels in London, as rail scheme bosses claim their staff were victims of theft and assault, while blasting the eco-warriors for protesting during the Covid pandemic.
A lone protester, known only at this stage as Bradley, was the last person remaining underground trying to stop the high-speed rail line going ahead after a 31-day-long demonstration.
He raised two fingers in a peace sign as he was being put into an ambulance this morning, while a crowd gathered nearby cheered and shouted ‘we love you Bradley’.
A total of nine protesters have been removed from the tunnels since they were discovered on January 26, including high-profile campaigner Swampy, who finally left the site yesterday after a month under the surface.
The protest below Euston Square Gardens had been fast approaching the longest in UK history, when Essex bypass objectors dug in for 40 days in 2000.
A source told the Guardian that Bradley was ‘determined to hold out for as long as possible’ and ‘had enough food or water to survive for some time’.
However, Bradley departed the site today, bringing an end to the long-running protest.
In a statement, HS2 confirmed nine illegal trespassers had been safely removed,but slammed the activists for ‘wasting public resources’ and placing additional pressure on emergency services dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
The final anti-HS2 activist gesticulates from the back of an ambulance after being removed from underground tunnels at the HS2 Rebellion encampment in Euston Square Gardens
The two tunnels are in London and have been created to protest work that would see green space or trees removed or felled
Swampy’s exit from the Euston Square Gardens protest (pictured) left the last man standing, called Bradley, before he too was removed this morning
Swampy, Isla Sandford, 18, the daughter of millionaire Scottish landowner Roc Sandford known as Blue, and a mystery protester (pictured left to right) have left the HS2 tunnel protest
Why is HS2 so controversial?
The Woodland Trust, a conservation charity, calls HS2 ‘a grave threat to the UK’s ancient woods, with 108 at risk of loss or damage’.
But HS2 says only 0.29 square kilometres (0.11 square miles) of ancient woodland will be lost during the first phase. HS2 says it will reduce journey times between London and northern England and add capacity to Britain’s crowded rail network.
Critics question whether HS2 is worth its ballooning price tag – now reported more than £100billion – especially after a pandemic that might permanently change people’s travel habits.
The first phase linking London and Birmingham is due to open between 2029 and 2033, according to HS2 Ltd.
In September Boris Johnson joined the front line to see work begin on HS2, as shovels hit the ground in Solihull.
He said the ‘incredible’ scheme, launched in 2009, would deliver not just ‘22,000 jobs now, but tens of thousands more high-skilled jobs in the decades ahead’.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs last year the first trains may not be up and running until 2031. The project has been shrouded in controversy since its birth, with campaigners warning it is ‘decimating countryside and creating a huge financial burden’.
In April wildlife presenter Chris Packham lost a High Court bid to stop ancient woodlands being dug up for the project.
There was also uproar when HS2’s annual report revealed each person working on it was costing the taxpayer almost £100,000 on average.
It also revealed chief executive Mark Thurston was paid £659,416 last year – four times as much as the PM. More than £3.3million was spent on ‘travel and subsistence’ and £802,000 on recruitment fees.
Dr Larch Maxey, who spent 27 days in the tunnel, said: ‘We’ve helped to shift awareness of the climate and ecological emergency, really taken things to a new level and also awareness of HS2 and its role in accelerating that.’
Dr Maxey said Bradley, would feel ‘very proud, I should think, and relieved and grateful for being back up top’.
The HS2 rail project – which is set to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in a bid to rebalance the UK’s economy – has been called ‘expensive, wasteful and destructive’ by environmentalists.
Protesters claimed the line will destroy or irreparably damage 108 ancient woodlands and 693 wildlife sites, and that Euston Square Gardens will be built over with a temporary taxi rank before being sold off to developers.
They added that ‘tree protectors’ were prepared to occupy the tunnels, dug ‘in secret’ over the last few months, and would stay underground ‘for as long as it takes to stop HS2’.
HS2 last week won an injunction against environmental campaigners occupying the site, with the company saying it meant they should leave the underground complex ‘immediately’ or potentially face a fine, up to two years in prison or both.
Yesterday Dan Hooper, better known as Swampy, 48, and Isla Sandford, 18, the daughter of millionaire Scottish landowner Roc Sandford known as Blue, clambered out with an unnamed comrade before officers arrested them.
Swampy’s exit on Thursday came days after his 16-year-old son Rory Hooper exited the tunnels below Euston declaring ‘I am looking forward to seeing mum’ as he was swept away by ambulance.
Earlier this week, Dr Larch Maxey, 48, was removed from Euston Square Gardens, London by bailiffs after entering the tunnels as part of protests against the high-speed railway line.
The geography lecturer appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday charged with criminal damage and two counts of obstructing or disrupting a person engaged in lawful activity.
Maxey, of Denham Country Park, Buckinghamshire, denied all three charges.
The activist, from the group HS2 Rebellion, is accused of trespassing and disrupting HS2 construction work at Euston Square Gardens by refusing to leave a tunnel under the site between January 27 and February 22.
He is also alleged to have damaged a mobile phone, belonging to Vision Limited, at the site between February 17 and 19.
Maxey is further accused of trespassing on a separate HS2 site on Hampstead Road and disrupting work by climbing a tree and refusing to come down between October 6 and 11 last year.
He was granted bail on the condition he does not enter any HS2 construction site and does not interfere with the workings of any HS2 construction site.
The geography lecturer was also given a curfew to remain at an address in south London between 11pm and 7am.
A crowd of supporters standing outside the court building today cheered as he exited shortly after his hearing.
He is next due to appear at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court on July 14 for trial.
The network of tunnels near the London station was created in secret by protesters who have loudly objected to the redevelopment of Euston Square Gardens as part of the rail link. They were discovered on January 26.
Maxey announced he was going to leave the tunnel on Monday and was later seen in another clip above ground. He was checked by medics and said he was ‘feeling fine’ but would go to hospital for checks to ‘err on the side of caution’.
The 48-year-old had earlier posted a video announcing his decision to leave.
He said: ‘I have been evicted – I’ve met my match, they’ve come for me and rinsed me completely, they’ve got all my stuff and got me backed into a corner so at that point I said ”that’s it, I’m coming out”.
‘I’ve had a cup of tea and am sorting my stuff out. I’ve got a deal that I can get some messages to people so I’ll be out in the next hour.’
Swampy’s son Rory Hooper, 16, came out of the tunnel he was put on a stretcher and carried away to safety (pictured) around a week ago
Dr Larch Maxey (seen outside Highbury Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday), 48, was removed from Euston Square Gardens, London by bailiffs on Monday
Maxey (pictured with his son Seb) had entered the tunnels as part of protests against the high-speed railway line
Dr Larch Maxey is seen being escorted by paramedics into a waiting ambulance after leaving his tunnel under Euston Gardens on Monday
Maxey is an Extinction Rebellion activist and was a full-time volunteer for the radical group in 2019 and helped organise hunger strike occupations that year.
In an interview with the Guardian, the long-time climate activist said he had a PhD in sustainability and was a geography lecturer and post-doctoral researcher for 17 years.
However, he said he had no income and described himself as a ‘relaxed freegan’ – someone who only eats food that would be going to waste.
The Bristol-based activist has said: ‘I work about 14 hours, six days a week with Extinction Rebellion. My role involves helping develop and implement our strategy and ideas for actions, and linking up with international groups.
‘This is my life’s purpose, and I couldn’t be happier and more fulfilled. I’m happy to spend every waking moment bringing this change about.’
A spokesman for HS2 said: ‘From the outset HS2 staff, our agents and the emergency service personnel have acted with safety as their utmost priority, risking their own lives in order to ensure the well-being of those who placed themselves in such a dangerous situation underground.
‘HS2 accepts the right to peaceful protest, but when the UK is dealing with the pandemic, the actions of these individuals has put additional pressure on public services, including the NHS, Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.
‘Additionally, HS2 staff and our agents were subject to numerous incidences of violence and criminal activity during this operation, including alleged theft and assault.
‘The case for HS2 – more capacity on our railways, better connectivity in the Midlands and North, and cutting carbon in transport – all remain important issues for the UK.
‘Crucially, HS2 is already playing a pivotal role in helping Britain’s post-pandemic economic recovery. There are 15,000 people already working on the project, with tens of thousands of additional jobs supported through our supply chain.
‘Instead of wasting public resources on illegal actions, we urge environmental organisations to support a project that will help cut the number of cars and lorries on our roads, cut demand for domestic flights, and help the country’s fight against climate change.’