‘Swampy Returns’ may have the ring of a low budget movie but nonetheless is enough to horrify the contractors building the so-called high-speed railway HS2.

…The ‘real life’ Swampy, who came to fame as an environmental protester in the 1990s, is one of the protesters at the HS2 construction site at Euston Station and even took his 16-year-old son with him (strangely the BBC stayed silent on child safety). After the protestors failed to comply with a court order to leave the network of tunnels that they dug undetected (you wonder how), HS2 bailiffs are now tasked with removing them.

At the time of writing three have been removed but a number are holding out in the tunnels and are proving a costly headache for the contractors, although as it is a state funded project, that’s us the taxpayers.

Many will advocate a hard-line approach to their removal but by law HS2 owe the protesters a duty of care and can only use minimal force to remove them, hence it takes time. HS2 also risk a backlash should they be too tough, or a protester is injured as in the eyes of many in the mainstream media this is obviously ‘the right sort of protest’.

HS2 obviously say that the safety of the protesters is their priority, and their bailiffs have to take the utmost care when removing them. A shaft has been dug down to the tunnel network and it can be painstaking work to overcome the obstacles put in their way, such as taking 25 hours cutting through a steel pipe to which one of the protesters had chained himself.

Interestingly the protesters have also been to the high court over safety fears and their expert witness was another specialist ‘protestor extraction’ contractor who said that the HS2 bailiffs did not have the right specialist equipment to perform the task safely. The eviction was temporarily suspended but the judge subsequently ruled it safe to continue.

Extraction of protesters from the likes of tunnels is obviously highly complex and even though the bailiffs at the Euston site have been working closely with the Health and Safety Executive as regards risk assessments, method statements and rescue plans it is still fraught with risk. Risks that need to be insured.

If anything adverse were to happen the bailiffs will be blamed and even if they were able to mount a successful defence it would be at a significant cost, not just the company but the directors will also be vulnerable. Their decisions would be scrutinised in the event of an accident and they could face action personally if they are deemed to have made the wrong decisions. Like any company, they cannot operate without insuring their liability but it will come at a cost with only a few high risk liability insurers prepared to provide cover, usually in the Lloyds market. 

Their insurance costs may well be high, but it would seem likely that they will have more than enough income to pay the premiums with many more similar protests anticipated along the 140-mile route, and that’s just phase one!