On Tuesday 26th February 2019, the National Eviction Team and The Sheriffs Office undertook the removal of occupiers from the Grow Heathrow site at Sipson Village.
The eviction was undertaken under a High Court writ of possession, which was issued to The Sheriffs Office, an authorised High Court enforcement company. The National Eviction Team works very closely with The Sheriffs Office and supports them on specialised evictions, such as this.
Timing was crucial for the commencement of the eviction: the entry team went in first, followed swiftly by the main team. A police helicopter was monitoring the position due to the proximity of the site to Heathrow Airport.
There were nine protesters on the site covered by the writ, and approximately 30 more on an adjacent plot of land to the rear.
As soon as the team gained entry, two protesters climbed up the tower they had constructed out of scaffolding tubes. There were several lock-ons on the tower and one protester locked-on.
Whilst the climbers were going up the tower, the protesters started throwing stones and urinating on the enforcement agents at ground level. Once the specialist climbing team reached the protesters, they removed the protester from the lock-on and the other agreed to climb down with no resistance.
The National Eviction Team also found several lock-ons at ground level, along with two more on top of a corrugated roof. They ranged from simple lock-ons to two that were substantial. They made them all safe and unusable.
The National Eviction Team secured the perimeter site quickly with fencing to mark out the boundary between the writ site and the adjacent land.
On site, the enforcement agents found a container with two people asleep inside and they were removed from site and two landlocked boats, an 8-ton 25-foot yacht and a Thames Cruiser owned by and put on site by the protesters. Arrangements are now being made with the owner to arrange for a crane to remove the boats.
The enforcement agents also found a shed in one of the greenhouses which had a wooden floor with a metal square in it with a handle. Beneath the metal panel was a tunnel head/ entrance, revealing a considerable drop into the shaft.
The National Eviction Team mobilised their specialist tunnelling team, who are fully qualified and experienced in protester extraction from confined spaces.
Whilst waiting for their arrival, the head of the tunnel was manned to stop anyone else from entering. The team’s first task was to examine the tunnel to remove any underground protesters and/or confirm that it was empty before closing it.
About five hours after finding the head of the tunnel, a male protester in his 50s appeared at the bottom of the shaft. He said there were five of them down there and that they had food and water for 14 days and that there were two concrete chambers at either end of the tunnels with lock-ons.. Simultaneously, a similar statement was made to the waiting press by the other protesters.
The protester advised the team that he was the conduit to communicate with the other in the tunnel but was concerned that the batteries they were using to circulate the air and light the tunnels were about to run flat. The team negotiated with him to allow him to connect power supply to these items from their solar panels above ground if he gave himself up and came out of the ground voluntarily. He agreed.
The authorised High Court Enforcement Officer from The Sheriffs Office and the Operations Manager were not convinced that there were more people in the tunnel, but had to assume that he was telling the truth and physically check the entire length of the tunnels to find the true picture.
The tunnelling team went into the 3.5 metre-deep shaft, where they discovered two tunnel heads, one heading north and the other south. They initially entered the north tunnel, as there was a possibility that this could extend into the neighbouring land. However, after a 2 metre strait, it curved into a 2.5 metre long fishhook and then a dead end.
After confirming and videoing the end of that tunnel, it was closed off and attention turned to the south side tunnel. This proved to be a lot more complex, having two chambers, a mattress, food and human waste containers. The tunnel then curved to the right before splitting into two.
By 17:30 on Friday 1st March the team had dug out and shored approximately 22 metres of tunnel and had not found any additional protesters within. The whole process was videoed and the tunnel was confirmed empty, at which point it was backfilled to render it unusable.
The enforcement agents took a written and video inventory of all items that remained on site, as they were tasked with managing the return of personal possessions under a 14-day tort notice. This effectively allows the protesters to collect any items they wish within that time frame.
As part of this process, the security put in place also prevents the protesters from regaining unauthorised access to the site.