HS2 activist, 18, says tunnel under Euston Station is collapsing

HS2 activist and daughter of a Scottish laird, 18, says the eco-warriors’ tunnel under Euston Station is collapsing but she’s not moving out

  • Blue Sandford, 18, is holed up in a network of tunnels under Euston Station 
  • She has captured public’s attention with her selfies from 15ft under the ground
  • For the past four days, the National Eviction Team has tried to extract protesters
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the tunnellers’ actions were ‘reckless’

She has become the face of teenage rebellion and is holed up in a network of tunnels under Euston Station in protest at the HS2 high-speed railway.

Blue Sandford, 18 – the daughter of an eccentric Scottish laird who splits her time between her father’s private island and her mother’s West London home – is the freshly elevated hero of environmental activists across the world.

For the past four days, as the National Eviction Team has tried to extract the protesters from their lair, the teenager – who has been on ‘strike’ from her £20,000-a-year school for several months – has captured the public’s attention with her smiling selfies from 15ft under the ground and her defiant Instagram post: ‘I put the crime in criminal.’

Now with reports of oxygen shortages, five internal soil collapses and claim and counter-claim that liquid mud is being poured into the tunnels to force protesters out, pressure is building to end the siege before someone dies. 

Blue Sandford, 18, who is holed up in a network of tunnels under Euston Station in protest at the HS2 high-speed railway, has been on ‘strike’ from her £20,000-a-year school for several months

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the tunnellers’ actions were ‘reckless, irresponsible and deeply concerning’.

And many parents are starting to question the judgment of Blue’s father Roc Sandford, a wealthy landowner and long-standing environmental campaigner, who is fully supporting the efforts of the youngster and her brother, Lazer, 20, in their fight to stop HS2 in its tracks – despite the irony of them trying to stop a project aimed at encouraging fewer vehicles on our roads.

Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday from her illegal underground burrow, a defiant Blue said: ‘It’s really strange being right at the centre of this huge thing but I can’t just sit at home. I am really terrified of the climate change disaster we are facing and I don’t know what else to do to change things.

‘HS2 is incredibly damaging and despite the Government declaring a climate emergency they are not following through on it at all.’

The protesters – calling themselves HS2 Rebellion – are occupying a 100ft tunnel which they had been secretly excavating under the streets of London since November, with the help of veteran eco-warrior Dan ‘Swampy’ Hooper.

They are protesting at HS2 plans to destroy Euston Square Gardens by building a temporary taxi rank for the adjacent station.

Last Wednesday, bailiffs moved in to try to break up the makeshift camp, leading to at least five activists retreating underground with enough provisions for six weeks.

Yesterday, officials warned them that they faced suffocation and drowning, with heavy rain forecast.

But the activists say the eviction team is risking their lives with heavy-handed tactics and by pumping liquid mud into the tunnels to undermine the structure of the tunnel network – a claim denied by HS2.

Blue said: ‘The eviction team have gone back on their word to get the water out. At the moment they are threatening our lives.

‘When we were digging the tunnel, we had drainage systems all along so that the water on the surface wouldn’t fall down into the tunnel and cause collapse. They have just removed our drainage systems so our tunnel is collapsing.’

The environmental activist has captured the public’s attention with her smiling selfies from 15ft under the ground

But she added: ‘We’re all still in good health despite the dirty tricks. It’s been cold since the eviction team brought in a huge compressor and sent a hose down blasting air along the tunnels. 

‘We’ve got lots of sleeping bags, though, and we’re taking it in shifts, with some sleeping, others awake having some food.

‘We have enough stores to last six weeks. I’m surviving on rice and tins of jackfruit, as well as pastries and other stuff collected from skips.’

While many would struggle to imagine living without home comforts for a day, the teenager is tougher than most.

Despite her privileged family connections – her great-great-grandfather was the 5th Earl of Rosslyn and her great-aunt was the late racehorse owner Lady Serena Rothschild, wife of Jacob, 4th Baron Rothschild – Blue has spent large parts of her life on Gometra, a windswept ‘off-grid’ island owned by her father, where there is no electricity, no school, no shop and no GP.

She is also no stranger to trouble, having spent the start of her 17th birthday in a custody cell for blocking a road during a school strike in Trafalgar Square – and she has yet to return to her lessons at King Alfred School in Golders Green, North London, where fees are £6,686 a term.

Dubbed ‘Britain’s Greta Thunberg’ – a nickname she hates – questions are being asked about whether she is being manipulated by her parents and those around her, similar to accusations levelled at the young Swedish campaigner’s family.

It is a sentiment hotly denied by Mr Sandford, who made his fortune through inherited property and became laird of Gometra when he purchased the small island west of Mull 30 years ago in pursuit of carbon-neutral living.  

In a rejection of all mod-cons that would leave many baffled, he washes his clothes in a bucket with his feet and fights off the cold by wearing multiple layers of clothing.

The teenager (pictured on her father’s island) splits her time between her father’s private island and her mother’s West London home

Having not flown for years, travelling between the island and his second home in London can take more than 13 hours. He navigates an eight-mile trek along a dirt track on Gometra, and also uses a folding bicycle, two ferries and two trains.

Last night, speaking from his island home, more than 500 miles away from the stand-off, Mr Sandford denied manipulating his children, saying ‘nothing could be further from the truth’. 

He said: ‘They have completely outclassed me in their protests, which proves it isn’t coming from me. I am always begging them to be careful and I sometimes feel like I am going to collapse with fear, but I am also so proud of what they are achieving.

‘I’m a parent, not an eco-warrior, and I am terrified of the future we are cooking up for our children. I have been going through a really dark and miserable place knowing I could lose them.’

Mr Sandford says that since moving to Gometra, he has tried to live firmly by his beliefs, passing them on to Blue and Lazer (real names Isla and Lachlan), as well as his two older children – Savannah, 22, who is at the protest site but not in the tunnels, and Cato, 31, a physicist whose research focuses on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Sandford – whose late Old Etonian father, Jeremy, wrote the 1966 TV classic Cathy Come Home, and whose mother is respected author Nell Dunn, 84 – also believes in reducing waste and has given his children festive gifts of street rubbish, which he sees as reclaimed art.

His long-term relationship with his children’s mother ended some years ago and it was a court order brought by her that ruled they must be schooled in London.

It was Mr Sandford’s interest in saving the environment that led to Blue going to her first demo with him when she was nine, and she was hooked. 

Father and daughter have protested together in London against climate change and staged a protest on Gometra in 2019, by blocking the causeway to the island from Ulva, in solidarity with Fiji, Kinbati, Nauru, Micronesia, the Marshall islands, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Timor Leste and Tonga to declare a climate and ecological emergency.

Since then, despite only recently becoming eligible to vote, the schoolgirl has been a key member of the youth wing of Extinction Rebellion in London.

Mr Sandford has declared Gometra a ‘Hope Island’ and is aiming for it to become carbon neutral in the next four years. 

It is also home to Rhoda Munro, the postmistress (Gometra has its own stamp), and the Primrose family – a mum, dad and one daughter, who are the latest in a series of people who have tried living there over the years.

But even getting to and from the island to the Scottish mainland is a significant challenge. With no cars, the most direct route is in a small boat… if the sea conditions allow.

The HS2 rail project, which is set to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, is being promoted as a means of ‘rebalancing’ the economy and helping to lower carbon emissions by reducing traffic on the roads. 

But protesters say the line will destroy or irreparably damage 108 ancient woodlands and 693 wildlife sites, and that Euston Square Gardens will be built over by a temporary taxi rank before being sold to developers.

HS2 insists the most ancient woodland will remain untouched and has criticised the ‘illegal’ occupation, saying it presents a danger to staff and enforcement officers.

The current taxi rank in Euston Square Gardens West is required for preparatory works, including utility diversions, to enable connection improvements with the Underground network and the construction of Euston’s new station.

Yesterday, an HS2 spokesman said: ‘I can deny that we are flooding the tunnel. We are pumping air so that the protesters can breathe.

‘The activists have dug a crude and poorly constructed tunnel. In the past 24 hours, the weather conditions have worsened and further heavy rain and sleet is forecast, which could lead to the tunnel becoming even more unstable.

‘We are concerned the occupants of the tunnel are now impeding efforts to help them, shutting themselves off underground, and preventing us from checking air quality as we supply them with air. 

‘As carbon dioxide can build up in the tunnel, they are putting themselves in even greater danger.

‘HS2, paramedics and the Met Police have all spoken to those in the tunnel to warn them of the dangers.

‘These activists have had multiple opportunities to remove themselves from the danger. For their own safety and the safety of our staff and the emergency service personnel at Euston, we urge them to get out of the tunnel.’

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