Friday Dec 02, 2022

‘You need protests’: Swampy criticises plan to jail those who occupy tunnels – The Guardian


Swampy, the UK’s most famous tunnel protester, has criticised plans to beef up the penalties for tunnelling protests, after Priti Patel announced those using the “guerrilla protest tactic” could face up to three years in jail.

An amendment to the recently published public order bill will create a new offence of causing serious disruption by creating and occupying tunnels, while going equipped to create protest tunnels will also be criminalised.

In addition to potential long jail terms, those convicted under the proposals could face an unlimited fine. “These measures will give our police the powers they need to crack down on this lawlessness and continue to make our streets safer,” Patel said.

The Home Office said in a statement: “The digging of makeshift tunnels is one of the most dangerous and costly tactics deployed by groups such as Just Stop Oil and protesters against levelling up projects such as HS2.

“Filled with lethal levels of carbon monoxide and dioxide, these tunnels can become death traps, not just for those inside them and members of the public, but also for those who are required to undertake rescue operations.”

Swampy, whose real name is Dan Hooper, became famous during the 1990s for taking part in a number of tunnel protests against road-building schemes – many of which were eventually abandoned.

He said: “We’ve always had protests in this country and, what with the Rwanda thing, we have to ask: are we heading towards dictatorship?”

Signs outside the site of a tunnel protest in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, in November 2021. Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

The government was failing to grasp the scale of the climate crisis, Hooper said. “You need protests, even if the protesters are saying things that aren’t always popular, you still need the protests to bring the conversation. If it wasn’t for Extinction Rebellion and other protest groups … [they] brought climate change massively back into the conversation and to the table. And that’s what protest does.”

The proposal came as anti-HS2 protesters reached their 35th day beneath the ground in Staffordshire, claiming it as one of the longest tunnel protests ever undertaken in the UK. Protesters say that bailiffs, who have been attempting to clear the tunnel network since 10 May, have put tunnellers in danger by cutting their air supply and refusing to provide safety equipment since they were cut off from fellow protesters.

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“Priti Patel has said in her statement that protesters make ‘death trap’ tunnels, which is a claim we would strongly refute,” Nancy Livingstone, a spokesperson for Bluebell Woods protection camp, said. “Our tunnels are safe and air supply consistent – it’s when HS2 don’t follow safety procedures that we become concerned. No one has ever been hurt in a tunnel eviction, either protesters or bailiffs.”

Larch Maxey, a longstanding Extinction Rebellion activist who, with Hooper, spent 30 days in a tunnel beneath Euston station last year, said stiffer penalties would not deter potential tunnellers.

Tunnel protests remained one of the most effective tactics in the activists’ playbook, Maxey …….


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