Top climbers in Newbury clash

The Independent Tuesday 12 March 1996

Charles Arthur

Professional climbers who are helping to evict Newbury bypass protesters from trees are facing a ban from training facilities in Sheffield, their base city.

The move comes as a group of élite climbers joined protesters along the Newbury site to teach them ropte techniques to help in their campaign.

The action against the climbers, who have been employed at up to £2,000 a week for «rope access work» to evict people at Newbury, marks another stage in a dispute which is exposing deep rifts within the tight-knit climbing community.

«It's all getting pretty violent and aggressive,» said Jerry Moffatt, one of Britain's top climbers, yesterday. «You get mates kicking each other in the head because one has been legally sworn in as a `policeman' and is trying to handcuff the other while up a tree.»

Yesterday the Edge, one of Sheffield's two largest indoor climbing facilities, announced that anybody working for the rope access company at Newbury was banned from the centre. «Three of the six names I've been given are members,» said Phil Robins, the Edge's director. «I've taken this step because there is strong opposition to what they're doing. They shouldn't be using climbing-based skills to evict people acting for the environment.»

The South Yorkshire city's other main training facility, the Foundry, is considering a similar ban. «We will speak to them first,» said Moffatt, who is a shareholder.

Many climbers feel that evictions would be impossible without the rope access skills that are being used by employees of Richard Turner Ltd (RTL), of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Mr Turner said: «I have a core of people who are doing very safe work at Newbury, and I regularly get calls from people who want to do the work. In a few months it will all be forgotten.»

But Mr Moffatt disagrees. «If RTL didn't have climbers getting people out of the trees, it would be almost impossible.»