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Judge acquits Stop HS2 protesters and admits possible wildlife crimes

For immediate release
7th March 2022

Today four peaceful protesters were acquitted of Aggravated Trespass at High Wycombe Magistrates Court who found that HS2 was at risk of committing wildlife crimes. District Judge Pilling acknowledged that the four had been campaigning to prevent HS2’s 14 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and protect a nationally important wildlife refuge from becoming the scene of HS2 Ltd’s wildlife crimes at Denham Country Park, Bucks on 24th July 2020. 

The case was full of dramatic twists and turns throughout the trial, with no one certain of the outcome until the end. It began with harrowing scenes when one of the four campaigners, Samantha Smithson (39), who has an MSc in Sustainability, had her safety line cut by a police heights team as ambulance workers and stunned members of the public looked on. 

Dr Larch Maxey, one of the Euston Tunnelers, who had occupied the line across the River Colne with Ms Smithson for 13 hours described the reaction of most present: “We were horrified that they cut her safety line as it was so dangerous! Sam was plunged into freefall from over 25 feet up and could easily have been killed.”

The previous day, at the same spot, a 19 year old protester had been stretchered to an ambulance and taken to hospital when his line had been cut by HS2, plunging him through the air and landing on his back.

Ms Smithson commented: “I was terrified that day. I thought I was going to die or be stretchered off to an ambulance as my friend had been the day before me. But even more terrifying than HS2’s thuggery is their disregard for not just my safety but all of our safety.” 

She continued: “Our acquittal today shows we’re on the right side of history. HS2 is the most expensive, destructive scheme in history. HS2 constantly breaks the law and gets away with murder unscathed, whilst accelerating our collective deaths through the Climate and Nature Emergency. I really hope this case and the peaceful actions of ordinary people like us exposes that HS2 Ltd and their so-called ‘ecologists’ are willing to risk lives to make quick dirty profits off the back of taxpayers. We’re each paying over £7000 to fund HS2’s devastation in the middle of a cost of living, energy and climate crisis.”  

Ms Smithson, along with Dr Larch Maxey and others sat on a line suspended 25 feet above the River Colne Ford, to protect an ancient Alder tree scheduled to be felled by HS2. They remained on the line for over 13 hours. That tree was felled, along with 1000s of others, in order to build what HS2 claim will be a temporary access bridge and road to move two pylons. Local residents and experts have claimed that, as the pylons had been erected using the adjacent Grand Union Canal, they could have been moved using the canal, but HS2 Ltd refused to change their plans in favour of the nature-friendly option. 

The Case itself was full of dramatic turns. Parliament identified the Colne Valley, in which Denham Country park sits, to be of national importance for biodiversity as it is home to 2700 species, with 17 of the UK’s 18 bat species roosting in the area. Judge Pillin accepted expert testimony that the 200+ year old Alder HS2 felled was a suitable habitat for many of the 17 species of rare and protected bats living locally. Then the HS2 Ecologist told the court, under oath, that HS2 did not have a bat licence at the time they felled the tree, raising concerns, shared by the judge, that the felling was illegal. 

Simon Natas, Senior Partner with ITN solicitors, who represented the campaigners said:

“My clients were accused of obstructing the lawful felling of an ancient Alder tree. They maintained that they were acting to prevent potential wildlife crimes, in particular with regard to bats. In acquitting them of aggravated trespass, the District Judge made it clear that she was “not impressed by the lack of detail” in the evidence of the ecologist who had supervised the works that day and whose job it was to ensure that the felling was conducted lawfully. 

“There was uncertainty about what surveys had been carried out and when and whether workmen had been properly briefed about potential risks to wildlife. Ultimately, she concluded that there was a real risk that breaches of wildlife protection legislation may have occurred that day, which is what my clients have argued all along.”

The four were charged with aggravated trespass. Of the 300+ arrests for those campaigning against HS2 to date, only a handful have been convicted. Lawyers and Civil Liberties campaigners have raised concerns that HS2 have pressured police and the CPS into illegitimate arrests and prosecutions.

Wiktoria James, 23 who supports homeless and vulnerable young people said: 

“Today brings really good news for the campaign, strength to protest cases, and those of us preventing future wildlife crimes. I’ve been on the campaign for some time now, but it shocked me in fact how little experience and knowledge the HS2 ecologist had regarding bats and the Alder tree. The fact he was not on the site while works began to inspect wildlife proves HS2 is one of the corporations committing and responsible for ecocide and loss of habitats. I am hopeful future cases are dropped, and we will be able to unite and support each other through preventing further social collapse and current wildlife and habitat extinction.”

Denham Ford Stop HS2 Line Cut Protester

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