Bypass protest scores another victory

The Independent Thursday January 11 1996

Danny Penman

Campaigners against the Newbury bypass scored another victory yesterday when they forced contractors to abandon preparation work on the road.

About 500 security guards have been hired by the contractors to stop protesters from interfering with the work. They have become the prime target of the campaigners.

Working before dawn yesterday, a group of about a dozen activists blocked the main gates of a firm supplying coaches for the security company. Two chained themselves to the gates of the main coach compound and prevented vehicles from leaving. They refused to unshackle themselves until the company called back the coaches sent to pick up the security guards. The company, Horseman Coaches, complied, leacing the guards stranded in their own compound, about 15 miles from Newbury. Later, Reliance Security, which provides the guards, pulled out of the contract. Norman Fryer-Saxby, general manager of the coach depot, said he was pleased the contract had been cancelled.

Des, one of the activists, said he and his colleagues would now try to find the new coach firm, so they could «take the same action on them». On Tuesday, protesters blockaded the security guards into their own compound and prevented work from starting.

Yesterday, at about 8am, contractors began clearance work for a secure compound at Pen Wood, at the southern end of the route.

A digger, flanked by about 50 security guards, entered the mixed oak woodland and began uprooting the trees. Within minutes, a dozen protesters arrived and tried to scale the digger but without success. About 50 trees over an area the size of a football pitch were uprooted before protesters stopped the work. By 9.30am, about 80 protesters were grappling with 150 security guards.

Some formed human ladders so that others could climb into the trees to stop them being felled, whilst others tried to dive under the digger.

After several hours, the guards were unable to prevent demonstrators from occupying the trees and crawling under the digger.

Police finally intervened shortly before midday. Officers placed themselves between the security guards and protesters to calm the situation and «recommended» that work be halted for the day. Two people were arrested. The digger was duly removed, flanked by both security guards and demonstrators.

Pete, one of the organisers of the Third Battle of Newbury protest group, said they were «very happy». The campaigners were last night laying plans to stop the contractors for a third successive day.