‘No public interest': Now prosecutors want to bring HS2 tunnellers back to court

More than a year on from underground eco protest at Euston, the CPS launches new legal action

Friday, 18th February — By Tom Foot

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Dr Larch Maxey during the underground rebellion against HS2 last year

PROTESTERS who lived in a self-dug tunnel for a month in protest at HS2 – and then walked free from court – are being chased by prosecutors again.

A legal challenge launched by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) against their acquittals has been described a “deeply disturbing” and has led to questions over its priorities and the cost of pursuing the case.

The step of applying for a judicial review to try and get the case heard again is considered rare and more than a year has already passed since the widely-reported protest.

A district judge at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court had ruled blunders by prosecution lawyers meant there was “no case to answer” for the environment activists following their month-long protest in January. Embarrassingly for the authorities and HS2 managers, the group had secretly dug a network of underground tunnels in a bid to stop trees being chopped down in Euston Square Gardens and along the HS2 rail line.

Dr Larch Maxey, who spent four weeks underground during the protest, told the New Journal this week: “Being very generous, it’s sour grapes and bad sportsmanship from the CPS. But to be more accurate, it’s deeply disturbing, absolutely shocking and a massive waste of taxpayers’ money. “This whole episode shows the power and tentacles of HS2 and how anyone who dares defy them will be persecuted.”

Dr Maxey added: “The trouble with the CPS is they have been hanging out with HS2 too long, they have a warped sense of reality. There is absolutely no public interest in this. Most people oppose HS2. The support we got from our protest was immense. People know we are in a climate emergency. We have three years to act or we will be locking-in to our imminent death.”

HS2, which has an official budget of £108billion, is a railway linking Euston and Birmingham, and later to cities in the north.

Above ground in Euston Square Gardens last January

Both the Conservatives and Labour back the project nationally – but it has been opposed locally. In Camden, it has already seen people’s homes and businesses seized – the award-winning Bree Louise pub was flattened.

Meanwhile, a public park, playground and several green spaces were closed, while a secondary school had to move sites. Tens of thousands of graves have been exhumed from an old Euston burial ground.

At the same time, hundreds of residents are living within a few metres of deafening construction work and noise. The demolition and disruption is set to last 15 years. This week, £500million contracts were unveiled for the construction of the HS2 station in Euston. No final designs have yet been approved by the council, but there have been warnings that the area will be transformed into a glossy plaza catering only for the affluent.

Dr Maxey and his fellow demonstrators were objecting to the felling of ancient trees. A vicar had already tried chaining herself to them, but they took things a few steps further by heading underground.

“We need to focus not on this but on getting off fossil fuels and into re-generating and support­ing nature so that we can live in a safe place again,” said Dr Maxey.

“What this feels like is worse than simply rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It’s more like telling people they should get off the boat, and then blaming people for trying.”

On whether the use of direct action protests were wise, Dr Maxey, who is currently campaigning with Just Stop Oil group, added: “If it worked, lobbying and asking nicely, we would do that. “But that hasn’t happened so far and so we have to take disruptive action.”

HS2 was embarrassed by a series of protests at Euston, below and above ground [Simon Lamrock]

Charges of aggravated trespass were dismissed last October by district judge Susan Williams on a technicality.

She ruled that the protesters had no case to answer because HS2 was not carrying out any construction work on the site at the time the charges were lodged. That no case to answer ruling meant the Crown could not appeal. The court had heard that the disruption to HS2’s work at the Euston site cost about £3.5million – the scheme’s budget so far has topped £108billion.

Simon Natas, from ITN Solicitors which acted for the protesters at the Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court trial, said: “Our view is that they were acquitted entirely properly and that the reasoning of the district judge in the case was unimpeachable. “We are surprised that the CPS is challenging that decision and I fully expect that their application will be contested.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “We have applied for permission to seek a judicial review into the decision to dismiss charges against six HS2 protesters in October. “Our written application will be considered by a judge. If it is granted a full hearing will take place before the high court.”

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