Accusations of “excessive force” being used by security guards on the HS2 rail project against protesters have been raised at Westminster.
Parliament heard there were some staff who were “overstepping the mark” in dealing with demonstrators opposed to the controversial scheme.
Conservative Party peer Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who served as Theresa May’s special adviser on the environment, referred to cases which he argued were “very close to assault” and warned there were some who, given a uniform, “feel that they are above the law”.
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However, ministers have said HS2 security personnel are “held to strict standards” and anyone found to have breached them was dealt with “firmly but fairly”.
Lord Randall highlighted his concerns during the Lords report stage of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill, which paves the way for the next phase of the project.
The former MP said: “I do not condone unlawful protests and I often think their campaigns do more harm than good.
“However, lawful protest is something else and because of several incidents that have occurred, I want to ensure that however frustrating such protests may be to those doing the construction, that legal protests should be allowed and dealt with appropriately.”
Lord Randall cited reports of a security guard apparently placing his knee on the neck of a protester.
He said: “There have been a number of other examples of excessive use of force on protesters which in my layman’s eyes seem very close to assault. I believe that training is given but I am not always sure that it is observed.
“I am also rather concerned that one or two individuals given a uniform of sorts feel that they are above the law.”
Responding, transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said: “We recognise that given the nature of the works on HS2 and the profile of the project, it is necessary for security personnel to be part of the project. They ensure the health and safety both of those who work on HS2 and those who live and work near it.
“These security personnel are held to strict standards. It is a contractual requirement that all security guards working on the HS2 project must hold a licence issued by the Security Industry Authority (SIA).”
The firms they worked for also needed to be part of the SIA’s approved contractor scheme.
Lady Vere added: “HS2 Limited has been very clear on the values they expect to be followed by all staff in their supply chain and on the behaviour of those in public-facing roles such as security guards.
“If actions or behaviours fall short of these expectations they are dealt with firmly but fairly after a thorough investigation.”
The public could report their concerns on a round-the-clock freephone community helpline operated by HS2 Limited, she said.
But Lord Randall said: “I am not entirely convinced the practice matches the theory around some of the security personnel. Not all of them. They do a difficult job in difficult circumstances. But there are one or two who are overstepping the mark.”
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