Dawn eviction for protesters

The Guardian Monday January 13 1997

Geoffrey Gibbs

ANTI-ROADS campaigners chained themselves to concrete lock-ons in a series of underground tunnels and bunkers yesterday in a forlorn effort to prevent contractors evicting them from a hilltop protest camp on the route of a new £50 million dual carriageway through east Devon.

Seventeen protesters, seven men and 10 women, were arrested as bailiffs, backed up by around 150 police officers, moved in under cover of darkness to scale the stockade around the camp dubbed Fort Trollheim. There were no reported injuries.

The Under Sheriff of Devon, Trevor Coleman, who required special court permission to carry out the eviction on a Sunday, said he acted when he did because he had anticipated a number of protesters being off site for anniversary demonstrations at Newbury.

The eviction, which started at 3.30am, took nine hours to complete.

After the removal of protesters the stockade was reduced to matchwood and the tunnels and bunkers backfilled.

In two 15ft pits tunnelling experts used pickaxes and hammers to break away the concrete around the lock-ons into which a young man and woman had handcuffed themselves.

Mr Coleman said the lock-ons had been built around tree roots and were «some of the best my specialists have seen». He said there had been no serious aggression.

Mr Coleman denied that lives had been put at risk by the use of mechanical diggers. He said ground radar had been used across the end of the camp where the diggers were used to ensure there was no danger.

Independent observers complained yesterday after being prevented from going inside the police cordon around Trollheim, and criticised the use of heavy machinery. «We were very disappointed not to be able to get close enough to truly observe what was going on,» said Carole Johnstone, the observers' co-ordinator. «We know they were using heavy machinery very near the tunnels. There is an obvious safety problem there. We are very concerned at the regard for safety that these people have.»

Journalists were allowed briefly inside the cordon to witness the removal of protesters.

The eviction came two weeks after protesters were removed from the nearby Allercombe site after being caught napping by bailiffs over the Christmas period.

Mr Coleman is still faced with what is expected to be the more difficult task of evicting protesters at Fairmile, the largest of three camps along the route of the proposed new 13 miles of dual carriageway on the A30 linking the Honiton bypass with the M5 near Exeter.

The camp, barely half a mile from Trollheim, has been established for more than two years. Ed, a longstanding resident, said protesters living there were «digging in» in readiness for the arrival of the sheriff's men.