There’s an old saying that ‘a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on’ – and this is never truer than when it comes to stories planted in the media by opponents of the HS2 high-speed railway that’s currently under construction.
Here’s the latest example, which is a tale about a memorial woodland outside Wendover in Buckinghamshire.
The story was planted by a young lady from East Devon, one Beth Mahoney. Here it is;
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Needless to say, it soon got picked up elsewhere and amplified and exaggerated even more. Reading it, you’d think that HS2 contractors had just turned up out of the blue and bulldozed all the trees, memorials and (alleged) children’s ashes to make way for the new railway. After all, the story contains all the right elements to cause outrage in certain circles: Death, children – and trees.
One of the people who helped amplify this story and the sense of outrage was none other than ‘celebrity’ environmentalist, Chris Packham (who’s relationship with the truth is always questionable when it comes to HS2) who tweeted this.
So, what’s the truth? Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? This is the announcement from the hospice about the establishment of the memorial wood.
Note, this is a memorial woodland. It is not (and never has been) a cemetery. No-one is interred there and if anyone has scattered ashes there, then they have done so without official sanction. Nor is it specifically about children.
Why did no-one know this work was happening, as is claimed? The truth is – they did – and they’ve known for years. Here’s a rather revealing story in the local rag, the Bucks Herald from May 2019. It’s headlined…
The end of the article carries this rather revealing response from HS2 Ltd.
So, the memorial isn’t being bulldozed at all and the hyperbole about ‘desecration’ is just that. Yes, it’s unfortunate that services have to be diverted through a small part of the memorial wood, but compared to (say) exhuming graveyards, this is on a very different scale.
Funnily enough, the Bucks Herald seems to have suffered a strange bout of amnesia about their 2019 article when they published this new one on the 19th November. Its headline?
Notice two things. One, the old newspaper trick that – you can claim any old cobblers as long as you put it in inverted commas! Two, suddenly the memorial wood has become exclusively “a memorial site for children” The rag goes on to interview parents of a child who sadly died, who are quoted as saying ;
“If HS2 needed to use the site, they could have dealt with the matter sensitively, making sure that the families of the children whose memorials were there were given the opportunity to dig up their trees and remove their memorial stones.”
Hang on a minute? How would HS2 Ltd know which families are linked to the memorial woods? It’s not a cemetery remember, and the only people who would know anything about deaths at the hospice is – the hospice. So, did the hospice know this work was going to happen? Of course they did – as is revealed here.
This is the Facebook page of the Aylesbury and District news from the 6th January. It contains this page.
Once again, note ‘those who’ve died’ Not ‘children who’ve died’ And the entry underneath is?
Out of interest I contacted HS2 Ltd about some of these claims.
They told me that they gave the landowner and the hospice a month’s notice before they took possession of the woodland (notified 17th September, possession took place on 20th October). Their understanding is that the hospice sent out correspondence to all known donors on 20th September advising of the possession and the works They also told me that the public notice published on the HS2 community website that covers the area does confirm on page two under “preparation works” that trees will be cut down.
Now, I’m not in any way casting any aspersions on the Hospice here. It seems they’re completely innocent parties in this manufactured row and mischief making by others cynically using any stick they can find (or invent) to beat HS2 with – and damn the truth!
So what is the truth? Well, it’s that a small section of the memorial wood has had to be dug up to divert utilities. Once the work is done, new trees will be planted and the memorial woodland restored. It’s unfortunate, but it’s very different to the distorted picture being painted. The fact is, 85% of the woodland is still intact, as was reveled by this local resident on Twitter.
My problem with all this – apart from the obvious lies and distortions – is the way some people are stoking up a climate of hate against HS2 and anyone who works for it. People working on HS2 construction sites already have to deal with abuse and harassment from protesters, some have even been followed back to their hotels, but accusing them of ‘desecrating’ a children’s memorial has hit a new low. How long before a poor HS2 worker is attacked by some idiot fired up by stories like this?
It’s about time some sections of the media started telling the truth – and some ‘celebrity environmentalists’ too for that matter…
Since I wrote this blog, new information has come to light which (yet again) exposes the hype and hyperbole behind this story. The information comes via ‘Planet Radio’ and you can view it in this link. The headline?
The article contains a statement from Tracey Hancock, Director of Fundraising for the hospice, part of which explains this..
Rennie Grove Hospice Care and the landowner were given a month’s notice of HS2’s intention to take possession of the land on 20 October 2020. Rennie Grove wrote to every family recorded as having a tree in the woodland to let them know that the area would be out of bounds after this date. The charity has since become aware of one family who did not receive their letter and who subsequently visited the woodland to find the tree planted in memory of their daughter and a memorial stone they had also placed by it were no longer there.
A spokesperson for HS2 was also quoted, saying this;
“We informed the Hospice and the landowner a month in advance, providing them with time to notify the families and friends of the deceased who may have wanted to remove any fixed items before work started.”
Despite the truth now being out, watch the tiny bunch of protesters who still think they can stop HS2 exploit bereaved families and the Hospice for their own ends and drag this out for their own propaganda purposes. This cynical attempt to exploit the issue is being circulated on various anti HS2 Facebook pages – and during the Covid lockdown too!
UPDATE. December 2022.
So, what’s happened to the wood, more than two years later? It’s still there as anyone looking at the area on Google maps can see.
Local sources tell me that the memorial stones that disappeared were due to a local person removing them for ‘safekeeping’ but neglecting to inform anyone! All the hype, distortions and misinformation never stopped HS2 of course. Now construction in the Wendover area is well underway and the protests have collapsed, but the wood remains.
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It’s interesting this memorial was planted in 2010. If memory serves, it’s been known the proposed route passed through there next to the station and A413 since then.
Yep – checked the March 2010 command paper and there is an OS map clearly showing the route going through this spot. I wonder why this field was donated at the time?
Paul Bigland said:
Interesting – and thanks for checking that. I suspect that – at the time – some people were still thinking HS2 wouldn’t happen. Reality only kicked in after the ‘safeguarding’ announcements were made.
Pity you choose to attack Chris Packham who suffers from autisum. My son is autistic and suffers from cheap shot bullies making snide comments. Disgusted that you seem to enjoy bullying the disabled.
Paul Bigland said:
That Packham has autism is neither here not there. The condition does not prevent people from telling fact from fiction, nor truth from lies. To suggest proving that Packham has been less then honest about Hs2 means he’s being ‘bullied’ is about as dumb a suggestion as I’ve ever seen.
Another excellent spot on piece. Usual Anti’s are being dismissive and derisory and talking about anything but HS2 to try to smokescreen the failure. Why oh why they can’t see the hole they dig themselves is beyond me. But I really shouldn’t be surprised should I.
A similar false campaign is being mounted about destroying Wormwood Scrubs when just like at this site its simple job of HS2 relocation of utilities in a very small area .
After all why would HS2 need Wormwood Scrubs when they have a big enough site at Old Oak Common!
Last week I watched House of Lords committee re HS2 West Midlands to Crewe extension which is now only a short way from gaining Royal Assent with construction beginning next year .
I would rather not say said:
A great piece, soon as i read the story I hunted online for the ‘real story’ behind the headline as on face Value it did seem quite callous (which in itself meant there must be a different story at play) but for the past few days I’d been unable to find the filling to this sandwich until I’ve stumbled onto your blog. So many thanks for this and a real shame its been so hard to find amongst all the noise being created about it.
At the end of the day it seems the only trick left up their collective sleeve is to call out HS2 for doing things they’ve said they’re going to do for nearly 10 years and pretending it’s a surprise.
Ultimately the antis play a good social media game but likes, shares and petitions aren’t going to stop HS2 at this stage.
Paul Bigland said:
Indeed. Essentially, It’s all over bar the moaning for HS2 antis right now.
They took chainsaws to several thousand pounds’ worth of transplantable saplings, when there is a shortage of home grown young trees in the UK at the moment. Quibble all you like about how much was cleared, where, and whether each sapling was personally dedicated etc, that alone is enough for a deserved PR disaster. If they can’t handle basic, basic mitigation of a sensitive site by at least making that effort, it suggests worrying lack of competence.
Paul Bigland said:
If you think that was ‘several thousand pounds’ worth of saplings – you’ve obviously been shopping for them in the wrong places! Nor is their any evidence for this ‘tree shortage’ you claim exists. The truth is, this was a manufactured row that says more about the lack of a moral compass of the protesters than it does about HS2. People willing to exploit bereaved families in this was have absolutely no claim to any moral high ground – or sense of decency.
Oh, you’ve just reminded me, I’m procrastinating instead of compiling the tree shopping lists I’m supposed to be sending to my landscaping clients. Sadly, a lot of what I’m suggesting is out of stock, due to the entire country gone gardening-mad in lockdown. Hence my having to recommend they go to Barcham and similar, where trees far, far smaller than those felled start at £170 a go if you buy in bulk. The ‘Specimen’ trees from Majestic with those girths start at £400 excl VAT – all before delivery, of course. All those felled trees are liftable – at a price, of course, but a drop in the ocean of the HS2 budget, and less than replacing like for like.
Though clearly that isn’t you.
Paul Bigland said:
The fact that HS2 antis are queuing up to attack me and this blog proves the opposite…
A meticulously researched piece of factually accurate journalism…? Steady on now, if you keep doing this sort of this, you’ll get drummed out of the NUJ! 😉
Paul Bigland said:
Oooh – harsh! There are plenty of Journalists like myself who are out there trying to uncover and present the truth. Sadly, there are others…