Judgement released on HS2 and government application to imprison a conscientious protector

13.10.20For Immediate Release

The first of two judgements was handed down today on the application of HS2 Ltd and the Secretary of State to commit an individual to prison for defending ancient woodland and wildlife being destroyed by HS2.  

Elliott Cucuirean was found not to be in contempt of a significant number of alleged incidents brought against him of breaching an anti trespass injunction at Crackley Woods, Warwickshire, in April. HS2’s application was refused in respect to these incidents, due to their inability to sufficiently prove that Elliott was on the land as claimed.  

But Justice Marcus Smith allowed the application in respect to other incidents, for which there will be a sentence hearing this Friday at Birmingham High Court, at 10.30am.

This landmark case could have huge implications for the future of protests – potentially stifling legitimate protest against the government and companies for their roles in ecocide. It is the first time that HS2 have applied for a peaceful protester to be committed to prison for contempt of court and is seen to be a test case which could lead to a number of further similar applications by HS2. 

The defence was made on the basis that HS2 did not sufficiently communicate the terms of the order to Elliott. The judge agreed and accepted that Elliott had never been personally handed a copy of any court order and found that the strict terms given in relation to how the order was advertised had not been complied with. 

Despite this, the judge found in relation to some of the alleged incidents that Elliott was in contempt of court, where he was acting in a peaceful manner within a few feet of HS2’s fencing.

Statement from Robert Lizar solicitors, representing Elliott Cuciurean, said: “The judgment suggests that where a person may breach an order not even knowing that the order exists then that person may have to demonstrate that it would be unfair for the order to work against them.  We are concerned about the apparent conclusion that in cases such as these the burden of proving that there was no contempt of court has passed to the person accused of contempt, which reverses the usual and long established burden of proof in such cases.

“Persons unknown injunctions are taken out by large corporations and public bodies who are well financed to use highly paid commercial lawyers. There is no public funding at the time these orders are taken out to oppose them . It is very difficult for people of ordinary means to argue against injunction orders being taken out.

“It is therefore of great concern if peaceful protestors and local people may find themselves facing expensive and complicated legal proceedings without knowing they were doing anything wrong. The implications of injunctions such as this against the public at large will be further considered.” [1]

The full statement can be read here

The clearance of ancient woodland in Warwickshire took place during nesting season, when HS2 took the opportunity of lockdown and the media focused on the battle against Covid to expedite their destructive works.  HS2 cleared hundreds of trees during bird nesting and wildlife breeding season, flouting wildlife laws [2]. A number of wildlife crimes were reported to the police as well as numerous incidents of abuse towards protesters carried out by the National Eviction Team – contracted by the Secretary of State for Transport. No charges have been officially brought yet.

Activists and campaigning organisations are rightly questioning why HS2 and the government are not being held accountable for their actions. Targeting a conscientious protector with prison for defending ancient woodland and acting to protect our futures, is shockingly disproportionate and desperate, especially given the declared state of climate and ecological emergency. The Government and the Secretary of State for Transport clearly seek to quash legitimate protest against the destructive and unnecessary High Speed Rail project and silence those bearing witness to HS2’s illegal actions 

Lawyers against HS2 [3], said: “On an individual level, it is tragic that a determined young activist is being threatened with prison for peacefully opposing the destruction of the natural world being undertaken by HS2. 

“On a wider level, we as lawyers are deeply concerned about the courts granting injunctions preventing peaceful protest against persons unknown. In order to get these, they have to spend money on commercial lawyers that most people could simply not afford and the interests of the wider public are not represented at these hearings. It therefore amounts to HS2 using it’s almost unlimited access to taxpayer’s money to buy it’s own law and is deeply undemocratic, unfair and undermining the principle that everyone is equal under the law.”

Spokesperson for XR UK’s Political Circle, said: “This judgement is disappointing, HS2 continues to demonstrate the failure of the Government to address the Climate and Ecological Emergency. This comes at a time when MPs are expressing alarm at the behaviour of contractors at the demolition sites, and at the lack of information for communities and residents. This heavy handed approach is representative of the project overall, which is continuing with alarmingly poor oversight.

“We need an economy based on planetary repair, operating to an ecological not economic bottomline, that our youth recognise HS2 is an act of self harm is telling. That they are being punished for their bravery and their courage to protect what is left of our ancient woodlands is not justice. We will ultimately all pay the price, none more so than our children – as we destroy these once beautiful places with acts of Ecocide.”

The first hearing of this case took place at the end of July, with a further hearing of closing statements on September 17th[4]. Given the complexities of the landmark case Justice Smith reserved his judgement until now. The sentence hearing is this Friday 16th October.

Ongoing work is being carried out across HS2 sites without sufficient wildlife and environmental assessment, bat mitigation licences and without ecologists on site to monitor HS2’s work. In recent weeks, as commercial and political pressures on the Secretary of State for Transport and HS2 have increased, so have the frequency and intensity of violent attacks not just on our countryside but on those who seek to peacefully protect it. 

Ends

Notes to editors:
For more information about this and Fridays hearing contact 07969 083 371, HS2Rebellion@gmail.com
HIGH RESOLUTION PICTURE LIBRARY Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Donate 

[1] – Press Release from Robert Lizar solicitors: HS2 application for contempt of court against Elliott Cuciurean succeeds in part, rejected in part.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JpHJ1mitSHfonNcAMZmLjEoG3qPYK3S4/view?usp=sharing

[2] – https://bylinetimes.com/2020/06/11/fears-that-hs2-is-only-paying-lip-service-to-protecting-nesting-birds/. According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) seen by the Byline Times a total of 93 nests were recorded at Crackley Wood and Broadwells Wood between 15 April and 5 May. Out of the 22 species reported, the most frequent breeding bird was the blue tit with 22 nests, closely followed by wrens with 15. 

https://twitter.com/bearwitness2019/status/1271774160247816192
HS2’s own bat survey confirmed that the felling of trees in Broadwells Wood and Kenilworth sites will cause the permanent loss of 1,491 potential bat roosts of eight species of bat, all protected by law. Yet Natural England, charged with upholding that law, has allowed HS2 to be self-policing in accepting a statement from them that ‘no bats had been encountered during the works’, and has given the go ahead for HS2 to continue felling well into roosting season, while bats are still nursing their young.  Natural England admitted afterwards that bats were found.

[3] – Lawyers against HS2 are a working group made up of lawyers and solicitors who have been involved with defending protesters and activists opposing HS2, alongside members of the Extinction Rebellion Legal Support team

[4] – PR from hearing In July: https://hs2rebellion.earth/2020/07/28/young-conscientious-protector-faces-prison-for-defending-ancient-woodland-from-destruction-by-hs2-project/

Update from hearing
https://hs2rebellion.earth/2020/08/01/verdict-on-hs2s-move-to-imprison-young-protester-reserved-until-september/

About HS2 

HS2 is the most expensive, wasteful and destructive project in UK history and is set to cause irreparable damage to 108 ancient woodlands, 693 wildlife sites, 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and 5 internationally important wildlife sites.  It will be a vast new source of carbon emissions for at least the next 120 years, as well as enabling mass airport expansion. The controversial project is completely incompatible with the Government’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement as well as its legally binding commitment to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.  HS2 is by far the most expensive high speed railway the world has ever seen – £106 Billion according to the government, with Lord Berkley predicting more than £230 billion for the HS2 Entire project, connectivity, Northern Power House Rail and Midlands Connect Rail.

Despite pleas from all the leading wildlife NGOs, contractors continue to fell in the nesting season despite strict legal prohibition on the disturbing of nesting birds and attempt the translocation of ancient woodland soils during Spring/Summer – something which HS2 Ltd gave assurances that it would never do.  Ongoing work is being carried out without sufficient wildlife and environmental assessment, bat mitigation licences and without ecologists on site to monitor HS2’s work – another step in HS2’s lawbreaking-by-design approach to this project.

There is no need for HS2 in a post-Covid UK where people will be travelling less and working from home more.  The protection of our natural environment and the wildlife that depends on it should be front and centre of all future decision making as we cope with the Climate and Environmental Emergency.  

The UK Government must stop HS2 Ltd work immediately, stopping all ecocide, wildlife crime, seizing property & land, assaulting tree protectors and destruction of irreplaceable woodlands and other ecosystems.

About HS2 Rebellion

HS2 Rebellion is an alliance of groups and individuals campaigning against HS2, including but not exclusively: StopHS2, Save Cubbington Woods, Crackley Woods Protection Camp, Denham Ford Protection Camp, Poors Piece Conservation Project and XR. It is entirely distinct from Extinction Rebellion, but does form part of the Movement of Movements, alongside other sister groups like Wildlife Rebellion, Animal Rebellion and Global Justice Rebellion. https://hs2rebellion.earth/ 

2 thoughts on “Judgement released on HS2 and government application to imprison a conscientious protector

  1. I hope all goes well for the HS2 protesters and that the judge looks closely at how the HS2 workers have been behaving towards the protesters with their bullying tactics….

    Like

  2. I feel hs2 should not be allowed to get away with this at all if we break the law we get punished for it so hs2 should be punished or even better closed down and also the government figures who allowed them to go ahead with this disaster ruining peer countryside and wildlife

    Like

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