Twyford Down protesters invade motorway site: Nicholas Schoon reports on how a mass trespass by activists turned a requiem into a party

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The Independent Online
IT WAS MEANT to be a requiem but it turned out to be a party - a cheery mass trespass on the huge M3 construction site at Twyford Down, near Winchester, in Hampshire. The protest was mostly peaceful but there were 27 arrests.

Among the invaders yesterday were about a dozen people who had just been ordered by a High Court judge not to trespass or cause a nuisance on the Department of Transport's land where the four-mile stretch of motorway, costing pounds 45m, is being built. They were risking imprisonment for contempt of court.

'I'm prepared to face the consequences, even if it's prison,' said Reed Warbler - as he is codenamed by the Department of Transport - one of the 59 names on Friday's High Court injunction. His real name is Jason Torrance, 22, from Hastings, East Sussex, a full-time anti-roads campaigner.

About 500 people took part in what organisers called 'a requiem for our landscape'. There was to have been a minute's silence for the destruction that the vast cutting through the chalk downland will cause to countryside with high landscape, wildlife and archaeological value.

But instead there was an invasion of the construction site. The security firm charged with guarding it - Group 4, it so happens - was hopelessly outnumbered and so was the Hampshire Constabulary.

Down went the flimsy chainlink fence. In surged the protesters, mostly young and many of them New Age types. In the lead were members of the Dongas Tribe, a ragged elite of anti-road campaigners smelling lightly of sweat and patchouli oil, with the odd whiff of dope. They drummed and danced, chanted and hollered.

Group 4 and the police soon gave up all resistance, leaving the invaders with the run of the site. They set off south along the mile-long cutting, which they call Tory Canyon, in the hot afternoon sunshine.

As they marched, the reasons why the authorities were not interested in stopping them became clear. The environmental damage the protesters had fought had all been done.

No construction work was under way and all the heavy machinery had been moved out of harm's way. There was only the enormous, ugly gash in the chalk, once part of two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, two scheduled Ancient Monuments and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The canyon dwarfed the noisy invaders, mocked their euphoria.

Emma Must, another of the 59 people named in the injunction, said: 'It's too late for Twyford Down, but if we stop the protest we give our consent to what has happened here. What we're doing is making a difference.'

Miss Must, from Southampton, has just ended her job as a children's librarian to campaign full time. She said: 'We always knew we would break the injunction. No one took the decision lightly.'

The protesters halted where the new motorway is crossing the floodplain of the river Itchen on a large embankment. Dozens swam in it, some naked.

Then they marched on to try to occupy a temporary construction works bridge which crosses the A33 Winchester bypass. It was here that Group 4 and the police finally held a line. They only conceded half the bridge and once reinforcements arrived they cleared it forcibly, arresting those who resisted. Earlier, the invaders also briefly blocked traffic on the A33, the road that the new motorway is replacing.

Once it is built, the great canyon in the chalk will be full of the roar and fumes of traffic. And the protesters may have turned their attention to another cause celebre: Oxleas Wood in south-east London.

(Photographs omitted)