Violence flares at Newbury protest

The Sunday Times

Cherry Norton

VIOLENCE erupted at a demonstration against the Newbury bypass yesterday. Seven people were arrested when 300 protesters broke through security fencing, attacked machinery and set fire to a cabin and a dumper truck.

Police officers, some on horseback, and security guards were pelted with metal bolts. Firefighters were called in to tackle the flames. One man broke a leg after falling from a crane and was taken to hospital.

Campaigners had gathered at an ancient oak at Speen, Berkshire, in fog and drizzle for a rally to mark the first anniversary of the start of work on the £100m bypass.

A spokesman for Thames Valley police said: «We deplore the actions of the individuals involved. We estimate 500 people attended the event and the majority were well behaved and left when the violence began.»

Since the first trees were felled, more than 900 people have been arrested, mostly for obstructing the sherrif and aggravated trespass, and more than £15m has been spent on security for the site.

Speaking at the rally, Tony Benn, the veteran Labour MP, said the protest had played a significant part in changing public attitudes towards road-building: «It has highlighted the need for public transport to take the pressure off the roads now choked with vehicles.»

Campaign organisers claimed they were winning the battle against the building of roads and said more than 200 due to be started nationwide had been shelved. Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: «We are really at the crossroads now. Government road plans are in disarray. Because of the protest, we will never see a road like this go through again.»

Last week 10 protesters were arrested trying to lay a mock road in the garden of Sir George Young, the transport secretary. In a separate protest, 1,000 protesters objecting to the Newbury bypass were delivered to Young's second country home in Hampshire.