‘31 days in a tunnel is nothing compared to frying to death’
Underground HS2 activists walk free from court
Monday, 18th October 2021 — By Tom Foot
Dr Larch Maxey
ONE of the Euston HS2 tunnel protesters who walked free from court last week told how he overcame crippling claustrophobia during 31 days underground through sheer determination to stop the climate crisis.
Dr Larch Maxey was among a group that dug a secret tunnel and lived in it for a winter month to stop railway bosses axing dozens of trees in Euston Square Gardens.
Charges of aggravated trespass pressed for by the government-backed HS2 railway chiefs following protesters’ eviction in February were dismissed at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court last week.
This was celebrated by activists as a victory for right to protest, but the campaign to save the world has only just begun, Dr Maxey told the New Journal this week.
He said: “In the 1990s I went in a tunnel to protest against Manchester Airport. I just stuck my head in and it terrified me, because I suffer from claustrophobia. I stuck to tree-house protests after that. But I am a scientist and I know that a tunnel is tactically a better way than a tree-house to resist eviction.
“How did I overcome claustrophobia? By telling truth about the climate emergency. Nothing is more important than that. Most people today will not live out their natural lives. Let that sink in. Imagine being alive while your children suffer horrible deaths. When you get past that soft denial, it is possible to get past the panic attacks.
“It’s nothing prepared to what is coming. If we don’t make the changes in the next few years then by 2040 we will have societal collapse. By 2030 we will be frying to death by heat.”
Dr Maxey suggested people read the recent reports from think-tank Chatham House and government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, adding:
“The worst thing we can do is that we let politicians and corporations carry on with their business as usual model.”
There were wild celebrations at Highbury Corner last Wednesday after a magistrate said Dr Maxey and his peers had “no case to answer”.
The veteran campaigner said: “It was a completely political trial. They were trying to make an example of us. But we got the vote by civil disobedience. They shouldn’t be using the harshest sentences for peaceful protests.”
The group was trying to save mature trees from being felled as part of the HS2 work around Euston, which has already driven people from their homes and businesses.
Dr Maxey said: “People saw a group of peaceful people making a sacrifice – sacrificing our safety, comfort and potentially our liberty. People would have seen that and thought they must be doing something worth fighting for.
“Personally, it was an incredible life-changing experience. There were nine of us down there and we were so united and committed. We made such strong bonds with each other. And although we have been through a pernicious political trial, the best thing about it was that we got to see each other again.”
In August 2020, activists set up a camp in Euston Square Gardens and began digging with little pick axes, shovels and buckets creating a vast 100-metre network of tunnels.
“There were many tonnes of soil that we rammed into the walls of the pallets. The buckets being sent up to the top with each in were a big thing,” said Dr Maxey.
“Some of us have got tattoos of buckets on their bodies.”
The £108billion HS2 railway project has already devastated parts of Camden over several years with hundreds of homes and businesses demolished and parks dug up or built on.
Residents in blocks next to the main construction site have been left in what has been described by the council as “unacceptable” conditions due to the dust and noise. Camden is one of the worst affected areas and is facing 20 years of disruption and demolition from HS2.
Dr Maxey said: “I know we can bring forward the inevitable day it will get cancelled. HS2 will emit millions of tonnes of CO2. We need to be insulating our homes and transitioning to a zero carbon economy. Not pressing ahead with these vanity projects.”
An HS2 spokesperson said: “The actions of these illegal trespassers put their own lives at risk, as well as the lives of our staff, agents and those of the emergency service personnel who worked around the clock to ensure the well-being of people who placed themselves in such a dangerous situation underground.
“This action was an enormous waste of public money, especially during the pandemic, and we are bitterly disappointed that the court has not found fit to convict these individuals for their dangerous and irresponsible actions.”