HS2 has been granted a new injunction barring environmental protesters from land in west London where work on the high-speed rail link is being carried out.
The injunction on the site in Colne Valley, Hillingdon, was granted on a larger area than previously, and the ruling has also paved the way for a trial to examine issues relating to protest on the HS2 site more fully rather than allowing HS2 to continue applying for interim injunctions as it has done until now.
HS2 has made a series of successful injunction applications to the high court to bar protesters from parts of the site. In the latest, 33 protesters were accused of trespassing on HS2 land and interfering with the company’s work in a variety of ways, including climbing over or cutting fences, climbing trees and sitting on machinery.
Protesters have been at the site since October 2017 and continue to raise concerns about the destruction of ancient woodland and damage to animals and plants.
Tom Roscoe, a barrister for HS2, told the court: “We say that the pattern of unlawful conduct [by protesters] is as intense as ever.”
He said HS2 had consent from the Environment Agency to carry out various works that the protesters had raised concerns about.
Thirteen of the protesters gave evidence via video link at the hearing, focusing on concern for the destruction of the natural environment in the Colne Valley and disquiet about the behaviour of the contractors towards them.
Paul Powlesland, a barrister representing one of the protesters, Mark Keir, branded HS2 security as “lawless thugs” in relation to the eviction of protesters from a garage they were occupying in the area. Protesters told the court that sledgehammers were used in the eviction.
Elliott Cuciurean, a 22-year-old protester, told the court he had received a third-degree burn to his thumb and that he had seen HS2 contractors “breaking people’s noses” and assaulting people.
“One of the security guards ended up driving a mile down the road with me on the windshield,” he told the court.
Dr Larch Maxey raised concerns about a blurring of boundaries in the role of the National Eviction Team, also known as High Court Enforcement Group, who carry out high court orders to remove people from property and also provide security for HS2.
“I have had conversations with them where they have introduced themselves as high court officers. But they still go around when they are not enforcing a writ acting as high court officers,” Maxey said.
David Holland QC, sitting as a deputy high court judge, acknowledged that while High Court Enforcement enforced injunctions ordered by the high court, it was not an agent of the high court when providing security for HS2.
Maxey pleaded with the court for recognition of the depth of the climate emergency. “We are in a dire existential crisis. My entreaty is to take cognisance of the science and consider how we as a species grapple with it. The political system that has given us this emergency is not up to the job of dealing with it,” he said.
Holland acknowledged in his ruling that the HS2 project was a controversial one. He said the protesters were acting “not from any immediate self-interest but rather because of their genuine and passionate concern for the environment and their genuine fear that the activities of the claimants on the site risk causing irreparable harm to it.”
He said he was not in a position to take a view on whether the National Eviction Team had used unreasonable force on any particular occasion, and even if it had then this would not be a defence to the application for an injunction.
Powlesland said: “It is good news that the court has decided that HS2 cannot continue to have an interim injunction lasting years into the future without actually having to go to a trial and substantiate the allegations it makes against the earth protectors who it has named in the injunction.
“However, it is deeply disappointing that the court held that even if HS2’s agents from the National Eviction Team have acted violently or even unlawfully, that would not be grounds to refuse them an injunction. It undermines the rule of law to have injunctions from the high court being enforced by those who hold themselves out to be high court enforcement officers, but who behave in a thuggish and lawless manner.”
A spokesperson for HS2 said: “We are pleased that the injunction covering HS2 works at Harvil Road has been extended by the high court. These protests are a danger to the safety of the protesters, our staff and the general public, and put unnecessary strain on the emergency services.”
The spokesperson added that getting people out of cars and planes and on to more trains would help in the battle against climate change.