Today (Thursday 28th July) at Birmingham Civil Court the last of the anti-HS2 protesters, who spent a record 47 days in underground tunnels protecting woodland in Staffordshire, will be sentenced. Yesterday, four other young activists were sentenced to up to a year in jail for contempt of court, after breaching an injunction, which was served to them while underground, for peacefully protesting against HS2.
One protester, who was not in the tunnel, but did cross onto injuncted land for less than 20 minutes, was sentenced to 100 days in prison, plus a fine and court costs. This was despite being served court papers via Facebook messenger!
The longest sentence handed out yesterday was for more than 300 days.
Two other defendants received jail terms of 184 days and 156 days, suspended for two years, plus fines and court costs.
The extreme sentences provoked outcry among other anti-HS2 activists, who believe these young people are unjustly being made an example of. The length of sentencing stands in stark contrast to those given to the Euston tunnelers in 2021, all of whom walked free from court.
Outside court on Wednesday, environmental activist Karen said, “The tunnel protest was peaceful and proportionate. But these sentences are harmful and utterly disproportionate.”
Karen continued, “These brave youngsters already sacrificed a month and a half of their lives underground to protect our shared natural heritage during a climate and ecological emergency. It is abhorrent that some of them are now facing almost a year in prison just for sitting in a tunnel under a woodland. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a society.”
While the protesters at Bluebell Woods, near Swynnerton, Staffordshire, were digging in, a judge in a separate but related HS2 court case was considering HS2’s proposal to grant a route-wide injunction. The size of the area affected and the potential numbers of people excluded would make this the largest injunction in English legal history.
Adam, a spokesperson for HS2 Rebellion, said, “It seems incongruous that the trial of these peaceful protesters has been rushed through the courts and disproportionate sentences handed out for breaking a small-scale injunction, which they only found out about when already underground. But, in contrast, we have been waiting since May for a ruling on a far more significant injunction that could potentially criminalise people from halfway along the country, from London to Manchester, simply for walking onto land that HS2 is claiming as their own.”
Highlighting the lack of clarity surrounding HS2 following the cancellation of the Golburn Spur and the long-delayed injunction judgement, Adam said, “Depending on the result of the tory leadership contest, we might end up with the perverse scenario of HS2 being cancelled by our new Prime Minister, before some of the activists imprisoned today have been released from jail for peacefully protesting against HS2.”
The sentencing comes in the wake of the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which signalled a new nadir in this government’s war against peaceful protest. There is concern that these sentences may foreshadow a further shift towards authoritarianism and using draconian prison sentences as a way to silence dissenting voices.
Karen questioned the lack of coverage and care, “It seems like because this happened underground in the countryside in the midlands, nobody cares. But this affects us all and we all need to be talking about it. It feels like our courts, HS2, the media and the government are trying to silence us, right at the moment when we all need to be using our voices to cry out for an end to business as usual.”
Nancy, a spokesperson for Bluebell Woods Protection Camp pointed out, “The UN reported last month that we are ‘moving towards a global collapse scenario.’ Ecocidal mega-projects like HS2 are taking us high speed to collapse.
“HS2 will never be carbon neutral and its construction requires vast amounts of concrete, steel, and thousands of polluting lorry journeys, which inhibit our ability to reach carbon neutral. The industrial-scale drilling and deforestation involved actively hinder our ability to sequester carbon.
“This project is costing the earth – financially and environmentally. It is our duty to rise up against it and it hurts me to see my friends being jailed for trying to defend our future.”
HS2 Rebellion and other anti-HS2 activists and concerned groups call on people to join us at court from 10am today, Thursday 28th July, to show support and solidarity.