THE HIGHWAYS Agency and police have been accused of using the death of a roads protester as a 'sick excuse' to demolish the first house on the route of the Birmingham Northern Relief Road.
The body of 37 year old protester David Richards was discovered early on Sunday morning at Boundary Cottage near Shenstone. Police officers called to the house immediately declared it a crime scene and told remaining protesters to leave before handing it to the Highways Agency for demolition three days later.
Anti-roads campaigners at the Green Wood camp 1km away this week condemned the action.
'We're all really upset by it. The police and Highways Agency used this as an excuse to get us out and showed no respect or compassion for Dave's family or friends,' said protester John.
He added: 'The autopsy isn't complete yet and they have now destroyed the crime scene, which we find very worrying.'
An Agency spokeswoman denied that it had acted dishonourably and claimed that the protesters had left voluntarily. 'The cottage was subject to an eviction order on 23 April anyway and had to be demolished because it was in an unsafe state.'
She claimed the protesters had built tunnels under the house and made it structurally unsound by removing walls and beams.
A spokesman for Staffordshire Police said they were not treating the circumstances as suspicious but added that forensic tests on the body were still being carried out.
Richards, who was known as 'Sorted Dave', is thought to have died in his sleep from natural causes. He was a veteran of protests at the Faslane Trident submarine base and Manchester Airport and had previously been in the Army and French Foreign Legion.
Fellow veteran protester OK Simon claimed that the tragedy had galvanised local support and made the campaigners even more determined to stop the road. 'We have been inundated with telephone calls and offers of help from local people,' he said.
Meanwhile local campaign group the Alliance Against Birmingham Northern Relief Road is preparing its legal challenge to the concession for the 43km toll motorway. The case will be heard on 1 May in the High Court.
A memorial service for David Richards will be held at the Green Wood camp at 2pm tomorrow (Friday) by local Methodist minister Dave Shawcross, who has pledged his support for the campaign.