Eco-activist faces prison for HS2 protest

Hearing set to decided fate of Extinction Rebellion member.

Protests are expected this week at a High Court hearing in Birmingham where a member of climate action group Extinction Rebellion is facing imprisonment in what has been described as a “unprecedented” legal move.

At a hearing scheduled to begin on Thursday, 22-year-old earth protector Elliott Cuciurean, could be jailed for protecting ancient woodland from destruction by the Government’s High Speed Rail project.

HS2 Ltd and the Government have submitted an application to commit the young peaceful protector to prison for an alleged breach of an anti-trespass injunction around ancient woodland in Warwickshire.

The court action has drawn criticism from protestors and legal experts who see it as an attempt to criminalise peaceful protest against the controversial rail project.

Robert Lizar solicitors, representing Cuciurean (pictured), will raise grave concerns with the high court about the unjust nature of the injunction, alleging a failure to properly serve the injunction, constantly shifting boundaries and unreasonable aggression towards protesters by HS2 enforcement officers.

This is the first time HS2 Ltd have threatened imprisonment by applying for committal of a protester rather than the usual criminal law system, which would normally carry financial consequences. Mr Cuciurean allegedly entered injuncted land at Crackley Wood, Warwickshire, where ancient woodland was being felled to make way for HS2.

The injunction was brought into force on March 26th 2020 covering vast areas of land surrounding ancient woodlands including Crackley Woods, in Warwickshire. HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport gained the injunction to prevent environmental protectors from entering the land, thereby making it easier for HS2 to clear unlawfully during bird nesting, badger breeding and bat maternity season, without public scrutiny.

Despite condemnations from Britain’s leading environmental organisations including the Woodland Trust and RSPB, HS2 has pressed on with clearing hundreds of trees in irreplaceable woodlands, flouting environmental laws as they go.

A spokesman for Robert Lizar solicitors, representing the defendant, says “HS2 and the Government have applied for our client, a 22-year-old environmental activist, to be committed for breach of an anti-trespass injunction relating to an area of ancient woodlands at Crackley Wood which is currently being demolished to make way for HS2.

“Elliott Cuciurean’s case is the first where HS2 have applied for a committal of a protester. Our client has been singled out amongst many other activists on the site. Unusually, rather than just applying for contempt of court, HS2 and the Government have specifically applied for our client to be committed immediately to prison.

“We have grave concerns that HS2 enforcement officers failed properly to serve the injunction, constantly shifted the boundaries on the site and then effectively entrapped protesters by moving fences around them and behaved violently towards protesters without justification. We will be raising these issues with the High Court on Thursday and Friday.”

The HS2 Rebellion group added: “We are shocked and disturbed that the Government and HS2 are taking this unprecedented step, targeting a young peaceful protector and seeking to take away his liberty, for defending precious woodland. In attempting to imprison a conscientious protector for allegedly breaching an injunction, HS2 Ltd have effectively paid for a private law. HS2 took the opportunity of lockdown and the media being focused on the battle against COVID 19 to expedite their destructive works.

“The government, in its refusal to rethink HS2 or to listen to the will of the people, are negligent again in their duty to protect the best interests of the people they serve, particularly when the masses are crying out for meaningful action to tackle the climate emergency.”

Elliott Cuciurean said: “In the midst of a Climate and Ecological Emergency, ploughing ahead with HS2 is the most barbaric use of our time, energy, and resources. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and watching it being decimated for an unjustifiable project is traumatic.

“We need this wild land left unconcreted, to help soak up the water when the floods come, to provide shade in the scorching sun, and to help support the web of life we are part of. So many see this land purely as a construction site with the potential to make them rich, but these trees create the air we breathe and without them we are in serious trouble.”

The hearing is expected to last for two days.