Judge’s extraordinary injunction against HS2 protestors banning nearly one million people from trespassing anywhere on 170 mile route

HS2 Protest : pic credit: Construction News

The day after the official mourning period of the Queen ended Mr Justice Julian Knowles issued a judgement that made British legal history for its scope and scale of curbing future protests in England.

His ruling was an astounding victory for the HS2 Ltd – builders of the £98 billion high speed rail line – and Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary recently sacked by Liz Truss, the new PM.

They had sought an injunction to stop campaigners against the route from disrupting activity – such as building tunnels near London Euston and Staffordshire or trying to stop destruction of the countryside – such as in Wendover, Buckinghamshire- by injuncting all the people involved.

But Mr Justice Julian Knowles gave them more than they could have dreamed of – by injuncting any protest activity along the whole route from London to Crewe- and extending it to categories of unknown people as well as the 59 people named in the injunction bringing in hundreds of thousands of other people who support the protestors.

He ruled that “there has been significant violence, criminality and sometimes risk to the life of the activists, HS2 staff and contractors”, adding that “much of the direct action seems to have been less about expressing the activists’ views about the HS2 Scheme, and more about trying to cause as much nuisance as possible, with the overall aim of delaying, stopping or cancelling it via, in effect, a war of attrition”.

Massive legal precedent set by judge

The legal precedent the judge has allowed could open the doors to other national bodies – such as EDF who run state owned nuclear power plants – or Sellafield to seek such wide ranging injunctions against nuclear protestors – or new fracking companies extending their local injunctions to cover the whole of the country. Or the Just Stop Oil protestors – who have dug tunnels at oil terminals – could find them subject to a national ban.

Parliamentary sovereignty invoked

The judge’s reasoning was simple. He was not taking sides on whether he approved or rejected the construction of HS2. Instead he said the scheme had been approved and debated by Parliament and to protest against it by causing criminal damage was effectively in breach of Parliamentary sovereignty. He denied that his decision would have a chilling effect on protests because people could protest peacefully without having to trespass on the site or block construction entrances.

He bought the arguments of HS2 that these had already cost them £120m and could cost £200m and provided work for 27,000 people. He also accepted that HS2 could not afford to employ security staff or ask the police to patrol the entire route. He saw no point on HS2 issuing damages claims against the named individuals because they had no money.

He defended the huge scale of his injunction by saying: “I have anxiously considered the geographical extent of the injunction along the whole of the HS2 route, and whether it should be more limited.

“I have concluded, however, given the plain evidence of the protesters’ intentions to continue to protest and disrupt without limit – ‘let’s keep fucking up HS2’s day and causing as much disruption and cost as possible. Coming to land near you’ – such an extensive injunction is appropriate.”

Warning to over zealous security staff

He did however issue a warning to overzealous security staff injuring protestors citing the case of one person who knelt on a protestor’s neck – similar to the case of George Floyd who died in the US when a policeman knelt on his neck and sparked the Black Lives Matters protests. Presumably he didn’t want a Protestors Lives Matters campaign in the UK.

What is more interesting is the service of the injunction – which could land people in prison if they disobey it.

For the 59 people named he ruled: “Service of this Order on Named Defendants may be effected by personal service where practicable and/or posting a copy of this Order through the letterbox of each Named Defendant (or leaving in a separate mailbox), with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact the package contains a court order. If the premises do not have a letterbox, or mailbox, a package containing this Order may be affixed to or left at the front door or other prominent feature marked with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact that the package contains a court order and should be read urgently.”

But for the unnamed people the judge ruled that Facebook and Twitter had made large number of people know about the injunction. The protestors’ fundraising account had 265,268 followers.

Grant Shapps at the HS2 Old Oak Common construction site Pic credit: HS2 Ltd

“A non-exhaustive review of Facebook shows that information about the injunction and/or the link to a fundraiser has been posted and shared extensively across pages with thousands of followers and public groups with thousands of followers. Membership of the groups on Facebook to which the information has been shared amounts to 564,028.”

So there was no need for HS2 to individually inform these people.

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2 Ltd welcomes this judgment and its approval of the route-wide injunction. As Justice Knowles makes clear, this injunction will not, and is not intended to, stop legitimate protest. Instead, we hope the injunction will prevent the violence, intimidation and criminal damage these protests have frequently caused, harming the HS2 project and those working on it, and costing the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.”

But it looks as though protestors may challenge this judgement

The Guardian reported :” Lawyers representing one of the environmental activists. Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar solicitors, representing the activist James Knaggs, said: “This is a disappointing outcome. This injunction represents a concerning extension of the powers of a state-owned limited company to control and police large swathes of land across England. There is a concern that it constitutes a wide-ranging restriction on protests opposed to HS2 and is of extremely large geographical scope. It applies to very large areas of land, much of which is unfenced and unmarked.”

I can see this issue developing now Liz Truss is committed to creating growth and allowing free market policies at the expense of the environment, human rights and equal justice for all.

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Sex and Violence: The different treatment of Tory councillors Holmes and Coleman

Arrested and bailed; Brian Coleman

Last night Brian Coleman, the infamous former chair of the London fire authority and advocate of  mass privatisation, was arrested by police on suspicion of common assault after an incident outside a parade of shops in North Finchley.

He has been given police bail pending further inquiries into the alleged assault on  Buzz  cafe owner, Helen Michael, who fought a strong campaign against his privatised parking scheme during Coleman’s failed attempt to be re-elected as London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden. (See http://snipelondon.com/scoop/brian-coleman-arrested-on-suspicion-of-assault )

By sheer coincidence not many miles away  at St Albans magistrates court comments have been raised following another leading Tory pleading guilty to 23 charges of  creating and viewing child pornography, including  two extreme images. ( seehttp://bit.ly/Qr2osV) He will be sentenced on October 15.

Stephen Holmes, former Mayor of Dacorum and deputy chairman of Hertfordshire  children’s services, was also a leading advocate of Tory privatisation.

Let’s make it clear I am NOT linking the two men – I don’t know even if they know each other – nor suggesting that all privatisers are violent or paedophiles.

The link is to compare what the Conservatives have done about it. Dacorum Tories in Hemel Hempstead  immediately suspended Holmes following his arrest and he stood down as a borough and county councillor BEFORE even going to trial.

Stephen Holmes; Tories acted fast when police arrested him for keeping child pornography

Dacorum Tories are also looking  to appoint an independent ombudsman to look into complaints against councillors – particularly as people are asking what checks the party does when it selects candidates who are supposed to be trustworthy individuals.

Barnet Conservatives seem to indulge Coleman no matter what he says, what he does and who he insults. Given what happened last night it seems to me the Conservatives owe it to the electorate to suspend him from any remaining posts in Barnet and if found guilty they should demand his resignation.

If not Grant Shapps, the new chairman of the Tory Party  who knows all about Coleman, should insist the party takes action.

Grant Shapps: The man killing the public right to expose another Dame Shirley Porter

Grant Shapps: Abolishing the public's right to object

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, and Grant Shapps, the housing minister, will shortly be publishing the government’s response to their consultation on the rather boring subject of holding councils to account after they have closed down the Audit Commission.

Hidden in this rather dense document is a rather nasty proposal which seems to go against everything they stand for in opening up councils to scrutiny. The ministers are on record in wanting to encourage armchair auditors, more localism, more public rights, openness, you name it.

Eric Pickles is even a  fan of my friend Mrs Angry- a thorny red rose in the side of true blue Barnet Council- much to chagrin of Brian Coleman and his friends.

 So it rather bizarre that top Tory politicians should include a measure to abolish a 150 year old right that brought to light one of the worst scandals in local government.

Dame Shirley: Would have been saved by Grant Shapps. Pic courtesy:busheywood.com

 The exposure of Dame Shirley Porter in the 1990s for the infamous ” homes for votes ” scandal that included ” gerrymandering ” votes by selling council homes in Tory marginal seats was only possible because of a public right to force an auditor to investigate.

As the report says: “Members of the public currently have rights to question the auditor of an audited body about its accounts and raise objections… in respect of unlawful items of account or matters on which the auditor can make a report in the public interest..

Auditors have only limited discretion to refuse to investigate objections, but the costs of investigating objections, which are recovered from the local public body and, therefore, funded by council taxpayers, can be disproportionate to the sums involved in the complaint, or to the normal audit costs of the local public body.”

This rarely used power is now being scrapped because  as the paper says: “we consider that the rights for local government electors to object to the accounts are both outdated and over-burdensome on auditors, local public bodies and council tax payers.”

So  effectively Pickles and Shapps are saying it is too burdensome  for auditors to expose corruption and certainly not in the interest of local people to have the power to force the auditor to do it. One wonders why ministers are so keen to do this. Are they expecting more corruption? Do they not want the most forensic skilled person – the auditor – to examine accounts but rather as they propose go to lay people like the Information Commissioner and the local government ombudsman to do it? Or is Mr Shapps repealing this measure as a gift to a  secret fellow Tory heroine of his, Dame Shirley?

 I think we deserve to be told. You could try to get answers. Grant Shapps is a great user of Twitter, so you may send a tweet to @grantshapps. Eric Pickles is more old twentieth century and not very techy but he does have an email address, eric.pickles@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

 In the meantime I have written a full piece – one of five – on life after the Audit Commission – on the new Exaro News website. The link is  http://bit.ly/n8vRpc .

MetPro: A damning indictment of a flagship Tory council

One of three names for MetPro security company

Barnet Council: A damning report Pic: courtesy Barnet Council

The official audit report on  MetPro out this week – the bust security company employed by Barnet Council caught out secretly filming bloggers- is one of the most damning indictments of council incompetence I have ever seen.

The council’s own internal auditors have admitted that it had no business  spending £1.3m on  the security firm – under various titles and guises-  without carrying out basic checks or opening up the tender to competition.

 Frankly some of the findings are so damning as it to be almost unbelievable. Not only were basic checks never undertaken but officials even paid out cash without noticing it was going into an unauthorised bank account from those specified in the contracts and with the wrong VAT number on them. The council is even in danger of being prosecuted by Revenue and Customs for overpayments of VAT as a result. In other cases, there is NO  record of payments made to the company at all.  Any small business caught doing this would find the heavy hand of  the revenue turning them over.

This scandalous state of affairs would never have come to light without the combined work of Barnet’s bloggers – with particular reference to Mrs Angry’s  heroic and diligent work on the Broken Barnet website. See  here for her full report.( http://bitly.com/i13ngn )

As she points out the auditors’ finding are appalling: “No procurement exercise had been undertaken to appoint MetPro, in accordance with the Council’s CPR.
No written contract between the Council and MetPro could be found.
There is no record of an approval and authorisation for the use of MetPro for providing security
In the absence of a formal procurement exercise, we could not locate the following
documents/confirmation for MetPro, which the CPR require:
 Financial viability of the company
 Equal Opportunities Assessment
 Criminal Records Bureau checks
 Confirmation of company’s Public Liability Insurance arrangements
 Confirmation of the company’s Health and Safety registration
 Confirmation on the SIA licence status of the Company Officers
 An agreed specification which outlined the service to be provided
 An agreed schedule of rates for payment of invoices
 A process for monitoring performance of service delivery to establish if the Council was
receiving value for money ”

 It goes on: “Our sample testing of invoices highlighted there had been payments of invoices in the names of MetPro Group and MetPro Emergency Response Ltd where a valid VAT number had not been quoted. However a full review of all payments of invoices should be completed to identify all instances where a valid VAT number had not been quoted and the implications discussed with HMRC. There were inappropriate changes to bank account details on SAP Financial System resulting in payments to an unauthorised vendor – MetPro Emergency Response.”

Download  the full report at http://bit.ly/kqWmR0 .

There are much wider implications from this damning indictment of this flagship Easycare council.

With the government pushing councils to contract out – there must be proper supervision or literally millions of pounds could go astray. And there need to be questions asked of  Barnet’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, who consistently give such an incompetent shower of officials a clean bill of health. The firm can’t be value for money if it misses such a  big black hole.

Sadly the signs are in the name of  localism this could proliferate. Current plans for audit reform by Grant Shapps, the local government minister, intend to encourage a light touch.  This will be good news for incompetents and crooks across the nation but very bad news for council taxpayers everywhere.