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.
I’ve a small favour to ask…
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