Police team given excellence award for removing 'violent' HS2 protesters at Wendover site

The police team that removed HS2 protesters camping out in a gigantic treehouse by the Wendover site have been given an excellence award.

By James Lowson
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 12:01 am

Officers have won a Thames Valley Police Federation Team Excellence Award, the police force believe this was a uniquely challenging assignment.

Thames Valley Police say the team’s challenge was especially dangerous and testing as protesters attempted to disrupt their ascension up the treehouse.

The police alleges that urine was thrown onto officers during their climb, while protesters would grab ropes and interfere with the climbing equipment the authority was using.

One of the towers in Wendover

Wendover Active Resistance (WAR) organised a large scale demonstration to disrupt the works planned on the HS2 site near Wendover.

Protesters barricaded themselves into meticulously constructed treehouses and lived in underground tunnels by the future rail site.

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The final activists weren’t removed from the site until November, when campaigners known as Swampy and Satchel were removed from their makeshift base by the A413 and Chiltern Rail line south of Wendover.

Wendover Active Resistance Camp

The pair were described as ‘happy and well’ when they left the tunnel, neither were arrested upon their exit from the site.

Protesters believe that HS2 will do ‘untold damage’ to the environment in Wendover.

They wanted to disrupt the project on a ‘financial and logistical’ level to force the government to acknowledge opposition to the controversial rail scheme.

The Public Order Department (PDO) is the section of the police which is being recognised for ending HS2 protests, it is made up of Thames Valley Police and Hampshire Police staff.

A police spokesman said the PDO was: “At the time, the only police department in the country that had the skills and training to do this kind of work at height.”

This award has been granted to showcase five deployments the team completed at two HS2 sites between 28 September and 8 October 2020.

Police report that ‘horrendous’ weather made the final three deployments extra dangerous.

A police spokesman added: “The first of these final three deployments saw the officers successfully removing two protestors from 70 foot-high treehouses; one of the protesters was locked on and unable to self-release, and was suffering from exposure.

"Meanwhile other protesters assaulted the officers by tipping urine over them. The team used a cherry picker to remove the protesters; the unstable nature of the treehouses presented even more challenges.”

The police say protesters who acted violently were targeted during the second deployment.

Thames Valley Police say officers offered to give up holiday to take part in this second mission.

Protesters were arrested following a successful second assignment, the PDO says.

A police spokesman added: “The third deployment meant dealing with seven protestors up an even higher and more precarious tree.

"At one point a protester attempted to lock on to the hydraulics that were holding up an officer.

"Not only was this extremely dangerous, but would have involved a difficult rescue operation.

"Only the quick and decisive action of the officer in the basket prevented this from happening.

“The incident was live-streamed by the protestors, so the officers were under heavy scrutiny, but they remained calm and quick-thinking and managed to get all protesters down to arrest them.”

PC Phil Hewitt who helped lead the deployments and organise specialist training for the officers, said: “It was most definitely a team effort, and we pushed through adversity together. Our last deployment was dealing with protestors who were 90ft up in the air.

“The court-appointed bailiffs had already gone in to do a removal, but they’d been assaulted so we had to go in to make arrests. The weather was awful, we were knee-deep in mud, it was raining and freezing cold and there were 35-40mph winds. We thought: ‘Is this actually doable?’”

He continued: “It’s probably the first time a police protest removal team has operated in this way – usually bailiffs do work at height and police stand back. Some of the protestors even attempted to interfere with the safety of the officers, grabbing their ropes.

"It was a constantly fluid situation, but the team shone through and they deserve this recognition.”

Sgt Alex Shepherd, who was in charge of the team, said: “The officers had to look after themselves, each other, and ensure the protestors didn’t put themselves at undue risk. It was one of the scariest things I have witnessed as a supervisor.

“The whole team was amazing: they were dynamic and decisive. It’s difficult to express in words just how high these officers had to work, and how difficult these incidents were.”

PC Phil Hewitt and Sgt Alex Shepherd will attend the 2022 Thames Valley Police Federation Bravery Awards on 28 April, where they will collect an Excellence Award representing their whole team.

Thames Valley Police Federation Chair Craig O’Leary said: “These Public Order Department officers truly excelled in unique and extremely difficult conditions, while also being scrutinised on social media.

“They were well-trained, well-organised and composed, and worked brilliantly as a team, attempting to resolve the situation through negotiation in the first instance. Even when they were assaulted, they remained professional and completed their task."

“They went above and beyond, and exceeded themselves in this challenging situation. They fully deserve this Excellence Award.”

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