Prisoner of the A47 is welded inside cafe: A lay-by snack bar has become the scene of a desperate protest. Stephen Ward reports

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The Independent Online
PETER HAWES, 49, often has trouble sleeping because his arthritis pains him at night. So it is a measure of his desperation that he has chosen to have himself welded inside a portable cabin 12 feet from a busy trunk road, linked to the outside world by nothing more than a telephone and a ventilation shaft.

He is protesting at a decision by the Department of Transport to close the lay-by on the A47 between Wisbech and Cambridge where the cabin is parked, and where for 25 years it had been a popular 'greasy spoon' transport cafe. His wife bought it as a going concern two years ago, thinking it would give her 20 years' employment.

But after 13 accidents in six years on the stretch of road including the lay-by, the department decided it was unsafe. It gave Mr and Mrs Hawes a month's notice, and on Wednesday its lorries arrived at 5.30am, tipped piles of earth at the entrances to the lay-by, and closed it. Mr Hawes' wife Jenny, 46, arriving 20 minutes later, had to throw away the food she had bought for the day because, with no lay-by, there would be none of the 200 lorry drivers who stopped each day. Mr Hawes said: 'I've got a month's worth of food and 50 gallons of water and I'll be staying here until I get some action.'

You might have expected the department to offer a new site if it was evicting them, but in fact the legal status of Britain's thousands of mobile snack bars is uncertain. They pay rates to the local council - for which they receive no services - but as far as the department is concerned, they have no legal standing. 'We allow them to operate in our lay-bys because we recognise they are providing for a need. But if they constitute a danger we have to stop them,' a spokesman said. Unofficially, the department did suggest they might move into a newly-refurbished lay-by two miles up the road, and even put a base down for them. But it complained when Mrs Hawes tried to have mains electricity connected, and the base was removed.

'You can't have cables connected, or the cafe wouldn't be mobile,' the spokesman said. Mrs Hawes argues that she has mains electricity now, and a generator would disturb nearby houses if she started it up at 6am.

Mr Hawes, increasingly sleepdeprived because of a constant stream of lorries beeping their horns at night, said yesterday: 'I'm disabled so I can't work. My wife runs the business. I had to do something to help her.'

(Photographs omitted)