BAILIFFS who moved in on an anti-fracking camp in Surrey yesterday were confronted by protesters in a wooden fortress, tree houses and a network of tunnels containing campaigners who had chained themselves together.
Energy exploitation firm Europa Oil and Gas has been granted planning permission to drill for shale oil at Leith Hill in an area of outstanding natural beauty near Dorking.
Fracking involves drilling into layers of shale deep underground and pumping in chemicals to shatter — or fracture — the shale to release trapped gas or oil. Opponents say the process can pollute water supplies and the environment, and industrialises the countryside.
A "protection" camp was established in the area in October last year.
In January, Europa won a High Court order to evict the campaigners which bailiffs acted on at dawn yesterday.
Police attended but said they were there only to monitor the eviction and maintain public order.
But the bailiffs found themselves facing the fortress and a network of underground tunnels where around a dozen campaigners are believed to have chained themselves together.
A woman acting as a legal observer for the protesters, who gave her name as Amanda, said they were trying to "stave off" the oil company for as long as possible.
She said: "Obviously, everyone knew eviction would happen at one point, but I think everyone is trying to draw things out because planning permissions that have already been given only last for three years, and they are due to expire next year."
Europa employed security firm Specialist Group International to carry out the eviction.
The team was led by Peter Faulding, who in 1996 removed the protester known as Swampy from a tunnel dug to prevent construction of the A30 Honiton Bypass in Devon. Europa chief executive Hugh Mackay said four people were evicted yesterday morning. He said: "It appears that there is a tunnel network that has been dug, so our first priority is to make the tunnels safe and to safely evacuate any protesters who are underground." Leith Hill Action Group, which includes local residents, a parish councillor and a barrister, said: "Our mission is to preserve this fragile area of outstanding natural beauty and protect it from this inappropriate type of development." firstname.lastname@example.org