Roads battle is won but the war goes on

Click to follow
The swift action of police who moved in to disinter the final protesters at Fairmile has marked a third successful state operation against the campaign to prevent the completion of the A30.

The move was successful because no one was hurt, but the protesters, too, can claim the evening as a victory. For no one can doubt that Swampy, 23, the crusty hero who has this week come to personify the battle against the tide of new roads rolling across Britain, has made his point.

He is strongly opposed to what he described to The Independent last October as "car culture" and it is these beliefs which fuelled his determination to be the last to leave the encampment at Fairmile in Devon.

But the campaign veteran may also have been motivated by the fact that on two previous occasions he has missed out on the more glorious moments of conflict.

At the sister encampment at Allercombe, also in Devon, locals recall how upset he was to discover that squatters had burned out the entire settlement while he was away from the site.

He was also deeply disappointed when he went home for Christmas and missed the final Allercombe eviction on 27 December, when bailiffs made a surprise move. After all, it is only the big finales, with their intense media coverage, which make an impact.

Daniel Needs, aka Swampy, was quite right when he said last night that putting himself in peril was more effective than writing to his MP. Throughout the growth of the anti-roads movement the media attention paid to the protesters has been in equal measure to the danger they have faced.

Headline-grabbing conflicts such as those at Allercombe, Trollheim and Fairmile, and previously at Newbury, Berkshire, have "greened" public opinion and influenced government policy.

At Trollheim on 13 January, the first anniversary of the Newbury bypass protest, Trevor Coleman, the under-sheriff of Devon, moved in 200 police to arrest 17 protesters as they were cleared from the route of a new bypass. This was Mr Coleman's second tactical triumph on the route of the pounds 60m Honiton-Exeter A30 link road. He had realised that many of the protesters would be away from their posts, marking the Newbury anniversary.

The protesters, who have occupied sites along the 13-mile route of the planned dual carriageway for two years, expected that the evictors' struggle to clear their last-ditch camp at Fairmile, across the valley from Trollheim, would be a lengthy one. They knew that a complex network of tunnels, some more than 40ft underground, had been constructed and that they could rely on greater tree cover; protesters had also built a village of tree houses, linked by rope bridges.

And roads war has not yet ended. Earlier yesterday, three protesters who were remanded in custody last Wednesday for breaching bail conditions forbidding them from going near the Fairmile camp began a hunger strike.

Jennifer Hall, 23, of Preston, Lancashire, Sarah Baker, 22, of East Sussex, and John Davies, 32, of Inverness, announced that they would not eat until certain demands, including the publication for public scrutiny of the financing of the A30 road scheme, were met.