Risk grows as Swampy digs deeper

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Part of the labyrinth of tunnels housing three protesters against the A30 road development collapsed yesterday, raising fears for their safety.

One, Swampy, 23, was at least 30 feet down and thought to be digging himself in deeper still. The partial collapse of roof supports and timbers in the tunnel where the 16-year-old girl known as Animal and a colleague, John Woodhams, were camped 24 hours earlier happened during the night near an area where professional tunnellers had been shoring up the network. No one was injured, but under-sheriff Trevor Coleman said yesterday: "This is obviously a matter of great concern. It just emphasises the very dangerous nature of all the tunnels.

"The fact that there are three people and my tunnellers down there is helping to dry up the earth, so the risks [of collapse] are getting greater and greater." He added that repeated requests from the bailiff for Swampy and his colleagues, Dave and Ian, to come out had been ignored.

But the under-sheriff was considering a proposal from the A30 Action Group to allow one of their members to go in to speak to the men. The protesters' own lines of communications with the three were cut four days ago.

Another suggestion yesterday was that if media cameramen were allowed to film the men emerging from the tunnels - at the end of what is now the longest underground road protest in Britain - the demonstrators would be satisfied their point had been made.

Supporters above ground at the camp at Fairmile, near Honiton, have grown increasingly concerned about the safety of their subterranean colleagues. They were angry when communications were cut and claimed that work removing trees and involving the use of machinery should be stopped while Swampy, Dave and Ian were still in the tunnels.

Dave was yesterday under a steel-grilled door in a tunnel at right angles to where Animal and John survived four days. Ian was nearby in a small ledge, 18-to-24 inches long. Swampy was 25-to-30 feet beneath ground in a shaft in a small "worm hole" bored back underneath Dave and Ian's tunnel.

Those who know Swampy believe that he will continue digging. "He was working right up until they came in. He just loves tunnels," one protester said.

The Devon campaigners have called for a new inquiry into the A30 scheme, claiming that it will eventually cost taxpayers pounds 200m. The road is being built under the Government's Design Build Finance and Operate scheme, whereby it is privately funded and the cost repaid by the Government over 30 years.

In a move guaranteed further to infuriate environmentalists, the Government yesterday announced approval for a stretch of dual carriageway through countryside next to Fairmile, where the A30 protesters are making their last stand.

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