The environmental activists in the network of tunnels in front of Euston station in central London have launched an emergency legal action against safety regulators.
It has been confirmed that there are nine protesters in the tunnel constructed as a protest against the high speed rail link HS2, which is due to terminate at Euston when it is completed.
The small network was secretly dug over a number of months in a busy London square without apparently attracting the attention of police or security. The activists and their supporters above ground have repeatedly complained that the way that HS2 bailiffs are trying to evict the tunnellers is putting their lives at risk.
HS2 has accused the activists of putting their own lives at risk by remaining in the tunnel while the eviction work continues.
Activists have blamed five internal collapses and a stream of liquid mud pouring into their tunnel network on the HS2 eviction team. In a video dispatch from inside the tunnel in the early hours of Sunday morning, the tunneller Larch Maxey, 48, said: “They have just started raining a shower of soil down on us.”
He said that some of the bailiffs who seemed to be “sympathetic human beings” had given some of the protesters in the tunnel protective goggles to protect their eyes from the soil raining down on them.
The legal action against the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) calls on the safety regulator to immediately inform the environmental activists’ legal team of steps being taken to ensure the safety of protesters both above ground and underground.
HSE has overall responsibility for ensuring the safety of the site, according to the protesters, with independent oversight over what both the protesters and HS2 are doing on the site. They are now asking how many times HSE has visited the site, who they have spoken to when they are there, what guidance and direction they have given.
John Cooper QC, who is leading the legal action and has represented activists in other high-profile cases such as the protest outside St Paul’s Cathedral in the City, has asked to see the HSE documentation on risk assessment of the eviction. They have asked for a response by noon on Sunday and say that if no response is forthcoming by the deadline they could seek a protection order from the courts.
A HSE spokesperson said: “Concerns have been raised with HSE and these are being looked into. We remain in contact with HS2 in order to review any plans that would affect workers, protesters or rescue personnel.”
HS2 issued a statement on Saturday about safety on site and again accused the protesters of putting themselves in danger. “The activists at Euston have dug a crude and poorly constructed tunnel. In the past 24 hours the weather has worsened and further heavy rain and sleet is forecast, which could lead to the tunnel becoming even more unstable.
“We are concerned that the occupants of the tunnel are now impeding efforts to help them, shutting themselves off underground, and preventing us from checking air quality as we supply them with air. As carbon dioxide can build up in the tunnel, they are putting themselves in even greater danger.
“Highly experienced and specialist skilled professionals are leading this operation. HS2, paramedics and the Metropolitan police have all spoken to those in the tunnel to warn them of the dangers they have put themselves in, but still they refuse to come out. The London fire brigade have attended site to prepare any rescue plans.
“These activists have had multiple opportunities to remove themselves from the danger they have put themselves in. For their own safety and the safety of our staff and the emergency service personnel at Euston, we urge them to get out of the tunnel.”