Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Tales Of Trees And Tunnels

Accounts from Manchester Airport protest camp, now evicted


"The protest camps at Manchester Airport took three and a half months to build and one month to evict. The costs to one side were an estimated 7 million pounds, the cost to the other was over one hundred arrests and several prison stretches. It focused the attention of the nation on a new environmental battle and found supporters in the unlikeliest quarters (step forward Neil Hamilton). At least one baby was conceived and at least one ear was nailed to a tree (by the protester himself!) The evictions began with allegations of brutality and secrecy, and ended with a smiling Matt Benson hugging the tunneller who had brought him out of a network of tunnels after an incredible seventeen days underground. Every one of the 120 people escorted off site had a tale to tell. Squall collected three stories, from the very first to the very last."

Danny and Eli. Zion Tree Camp. Just Visiting.

"We'd arrived about 11.30pm, Sunday May 25th, with gallons of water and spent a while stumbling about in the dark with these containers. We'd never been to the camp before so we decided to have a bit of a wander and ended up round a campfire drinking tea. We got a bit off our faces by about half three in the morning. There was a rumour of evictions starting at four, but nobody seemed very convinced, and there were so many camps we never really thought we would get it then. Of course four o'clock came and as a plane was taking off, someone said 'did anyone just hear bolt cutters?' A couple of people went off to investigate, and then out of nowhere these 'men in black' just pounced all over us. There were about eight of them in camouflage trousers, black jackets, balaclava helmets and police issue side-handle batons.

"We were feeling distinctly confused and somewhat anaesthetised. Anyone that was moving around just got clubbed to the ground. Rob got clubbed in the back of the head and Jamie got held face down in the mud with a baton across his neck. They were screaming and swearing. They were really big, really brutal. One of them picked up an axe and started chopping fuck out of a ladder to no apparent purpose other than to scare people. One guy who tried to get into a tunnel lock-on got his head battered in by these guys using the tunnel door. People up in the trees were shouting 'what's going on?' and they were hissing at us 'don't say anything', but I think it was pretty obvious what was happening. You wanted to shout back but they really did look like they were about to kill us so yes, we shut up. They wandered around for about five minutes, then as they stepped back out of the way the other police moved in in luminous jackets. We asked 'who were those guys?' 'What guys?' they replied."

Mia. Sir Cliff Richard OBE Revolutionary Vegan Camp. Tree Dweller.

"We'd spent a week living fairly normal camp life while the evictions were going on all around. We were constantly expecting them to move in but they didn't until 9am on the second Tuesday. We'd been expecting them since four, and then it took them ages to get through our ground defences, so we had plenty of time to prepare. They took three tree-houses and two lock-ons that day, they didn't clear the camp until the third day, when I was the second last person out. Most of the eviction was done quite carefully, the scariest stuff was from the tree surgeons who were felling trees around cargo nets and a suspended bender and broke some of the support ropes. I couldn't believe how irresponsible they were being, they could have killed someone and they didn't give a shit.

"The second night was really horrible. They'd stripped the branches off a couple of ancient Beech Trees including Zion tree and were ready to fell them. These were trees that they had promised to transplant, and we were watching them being killed and couldn't get to them. At night we saw this squirrel running round and round the one of these trees looking for its nest. It couldn't understand what was happening to it. The next morning it was strange to hear the birds. There were fewer of them singing than we'd ever heard before.

"I was really proud of our defences. One woman was locked on through both arms and with a noose around her neck attached to a door above her head. I think it took them about three days to move her. Disco Dave stayed down the tunnel for six days until it was no longer safe. I was locked into a tyre in the last tree house and this guy who was with us stood waiting until the climbers reached us and then darted along a single line walkway to this really high spindly sycamore tree and grabbed on. He stayed there in the blazing sun and with no water for five hours, the climbers refused to go up after him saying the tree was unsafe. As heatstroke set in he had to come down, but he was the last off camp and he walked off in his own time, they never brought him down."

Matt. Cakehole Tunnel, Flywood Camp.

"The period between the first eviction at Zion Tree and the start of Flywood was mad. The waiting is always the hardest bit, we spent weeks just sitting by a hole in the ground. Once we were inside the exciting things were like brushing your teeth, having a shave or a wash, the sorts of little jobs you wouldn't normally think about. I saved them up and did one a day, that's how exciting it was.

"Since the 'men in black' had stormed the first camp and beaten up protesters and journalists and all that they'd been trying to reclaim the moral high ground and were failing badly. The stuff that was happening in the trees perhaps wasn't as bad as we've come to expect, but we had complete psychological intimidation in the tunnels all the time. Air was turned off every night in an attempt to asphyxiate us out. They work twelve hours a day so you can't get any sleep during the days, and then for three nights bailiffs came down and banged on the doors with hammers every half hour. After those three nights Muppet Dave gave up, you can't take much more than that. It stopped once I was on my own, but I didn't get to sleep properly at all for the next five days. That was really why I came out. I was exhausted even though I wasn't doing anything. I was in pain from lying down all the time, I was in tears a lot of the time and things were reaching a natural conclusion.

"By the time I came out I was really friendly with the tunnellers, it was a weird psychological thing that was going on. They call it Stockholm Syndrome, I loved them and still do now. I keep telling everyone how nice they are, and I didn't expect that. If they'd just asked me to come out I probably would have done, I'd have done anything for them. They are very good at talking to you, I'm not sure if they were using deliberate psychological tactics or not, I like to think they just wanted to be friendly, but who knows.

"It's quite unusual in the protest movement for people to just give up and walk away, but it's different with tunnels. The lengths of time we are talking about are simply unheard of. If I'd chosen to stay down it would have been another two weeks work at least for them. The morning the tunnel collapsed was my seventeenth day and I was coming out anyway, which is quite ironic really. It is quite easy to build a tunnel that is unevictable, it's just a question of how long you can stick it out, because it is really, really weird. Maybe next time we'll do a month. Yeah, easy."


Related Articles
AERO-DYNAMICS - Manchester Airport ecological direct action protest site - Squall 15 / Summer 1997
For a menu of many other Squall articles about the Anti-Roads Movement, including protest camps, Reclaim The Streets and more click here