An emergency application to the high court by environmental protesters to halt HS2’s eviction of them from a tunnel close to Euston station because of safety concerns has been rejected by a judge.
Mr Justice Knowles ordered that Larch Maxey, a protester who lodged the application on Monday night, should immediately stop tunnelling and give details about the layouts of the tunnels and how many people are down there.
The judge also said the tunnellers should be granted rights to access their lawyers at the eviction site and that HS2, the Health and Safety Executive and London fire brigade should carefully consider the opinions of Peter Faulding, a tunnels expert who is advising the protesters.
Knowles said the situation for Maxey, 48, and eight others inside the tunnel was “very dangerous”.
The activists constructed the tunnel as a protest against the high-speed HS2 rail link, which is due to terminate at Euston when is completed.
The activists and their supporters above ground have repeatedly complained that the methods used by the HS2 eviction team are putting the tunnellers’ lives at risk. They say the eviction team is digging a parallel tunnel to try to reach the protesters.
As a result of these concerns lawyers acting for Maxey lodged the emergency application at 4pm on Monday. HS2 lodged an opposing application at 7.30pm. It is understood further legal challenges responding to this order may be under way.
In a statement following the emergency court order, an HS2 spokesperson said: “If Dr Maxey does not comply with the order to leave the tunnel (or the other obligations) – he will now be in contempt of court, punishable by a fine, up to two years in prison or both. We urge Dr Maxey to comply with the order as soon as possible – for his safety and the safety of his fellow activists and the HS2 and emergency personnel tasked with removing the illegal trespassers.” The judge’s order does not include an order to leave the tunnel.
John Cooper QC, who is representing Maxey and the other activists in the tunnel, said: “The judge ordered that our clients should receive full access to legal advice which until now has been impossible. A member of our team received a Covid fine when he tried to get access to the protesters previously. The judge also ordered that HS2 must consider the observations of the clients’ tunnel extraction expert Peter Faulding, a foremost expert in the field who has called for extraction works to be reviewed to avoid possible risk of harm to the protesters.”
The activists have been occupying the tunnel for nearly a week. Speaking from inside earlier on Tuesday, Blue Sandford, 18, said protest so far had been a “resounding success” and the tunnellers had received a lot of support from members of the public.
She said she was underground to highlight the climate emergency and believes the HS2 project is contributing to that with the destruction of countryside and ancient woodland. HS2 said it was planting 7m trees to offset the destruction of woodland.
“There are so many inspiring people working so hard to save humanity and animals and plants and trees and the world. I really think we have a chance to stop this. We just have to do it before it’s too late,” said Sandford.
On Tuesday, activists dressed as HS2 contractors staged a protest on the canopy roof at the front of HS2’s offices close to the tunnel site, unfurling a banner saying: “Essential work should heal not harm.”