On Tuesday 26th February 2019, The Sheriffs Office undertook the removal of occupiers from the Grow Heathrow site at Sipson Village. The protesters had been expecting us the week before and had issued a call for support online and on social media.
The eviction was undertaken under a High Court writ of possession. We called in the National Eviction Team to support us on this specialised eviction. The Sheriffs Office has worked with them on many occasions.
There were nine protesters on the site covered by the writ, and approximately 30 more on an adjacent plot of land to the rear.
The climbing team
As soon as we gained entry, two of the protesters climbed up the tower they had built out of scaffolding tubes and one protester locked-on. Whilst the specialist climbers were going up the tower, the protesters started throwing stones and urinating on the enforcement agents at ground level. The climbers removed the protester from the lock-on and the other agreed to climb down with no resistance.
There were several lock-ons at ground level, along with two more on top of a corrugated roof, ranging from simple lock-ons to two that were substantial. We made them all safe and unusable. Then we quickly secured the perimeter site with fencing to mark out the boundary between the writ site and the adjacent land.
The “Great Escape” tunnel
In addition to two landlocked boats on site, we also found a shed in one of the greenhouses which had a wooden floor with a metal square in it with a handle, covering a tunnel entrance.
The shaft was deep, around 3.5 metres, so we mobilised the National Eviction Team specialist tunneling team, who are fully qualified and experienced in protester extraction from confined spaces.
About five hours later a male protester in his 50s appeared at the bottom of the shaft. He said there were five of them down there and that they had food and water for 14 days. He also said there were two concrete chambers at either end of the tunnels with lock-ons. Simultaneously, a similar statement was made to the waiting press by the other protesters.
The protester was concerned that the batteries they were using to circulate the air and light the tunnels were about to run flat. We negotiated with him to allow him to connect power supply to these items from their solar panels above ground if he gave himself up and came out of the ground voluntarily. He agreed.
Whilst we were not convinced that there were more people in the tunnel, we had to assume that he was telling the truth and physically check the entire length of the tunnels.
When the specialist tunnelling team went in, they found two tunnels, one heading north and the other south. They explored the north tunnel fist, concerned that it might extend into neighbouring land. Fortunately, that was not the case. The southern tunnel had two chambers and split into two.
By 17:30 on Friday 1st March the team had dug out and shored approximately 22 metres of tunnel and, to our relief, had not found any additional protesters within. The whole process was videoed and we confirmed the tunnel as being empty at which point we backfilled to render it unusable.
This was the most extensive tunnel any of us had come across for a number of years.
The protesters’ possessions and ongoing security
We took a written and video inventory of all items that remained on site, as we were tasked with managing the return of personal possessions under a 14-day tort notice. This effectively allows the protesters to collect any items they wish within that time frame. As part of this process, the security put in place also prevents the protesters from regaining unauthorised access to the site.
Find out more
To read a longer version of this article, please visit the National Eviction Team website.
If you would like us to assist you with protesters, squatters or travellers, please call us on 0333 001 5100.