The octogenarian arrested for protecting trees
Wellingborough Walks protestor Anthony Loukes speaks about his climate activism
This week I met up in a Wellingborough cafe with Anthony Loukes, who has been part of the peaceful protests against the destruction of an avenue of lime trees in the town.
Here’s his story and how he came to be arrested.
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By Sarah Ward
When police arrested peaceful protestors attempting to save an avenue of Victorian lime trees from the axe, the image of Anthony Loukes, 84, calmly sitting in his red camping chair, was perhaps the defining one of the day.
Following his arrest for aggravated trespass the grandfather was mentioned in parliament by Wellingborough’s MP Peter Bone, who requested a temporary halt be put on tree felling by developer Vistry Group (formerly Bovis) while the legalities of the situation could be determined.
That has not happened, yet eight days on from those first arrests, the protestors, who are unorganised and largely consist of concerned locals, are slowing the progress of the destruction. Their protests have now caught national attention, after environmental barrister Paul Powlesland staged a sit-in in one of the trees, his elevated tweets gaining huge attention, with famous faces such as Deborah Meadon, sharing them.
Yesterday, while Powlesland was in talks with North Northamptonshire Council’s leader Jason Smithers, local Extinction Rebellion member Marly Lyman climbed the same tree and once again stopped the chop.
The trees, which do have tree protection orders, are being cut down to make way for infrastructure works to Wellingborough’s large scale housing development, Stanton Cross. Smithers says the loss of trees is 'regrettable’, but ‘the council is satisfied that the removal of the trees is authorised activity in relation to the necessary utility related works’.
Yesterday he asked the developers to put all paperwork relevant to the tree felling into the public arena.
Loukes, says he was not planning to get arrested. Along with many others he had been occupying the road opposite The Walks in Wellingborough in order to stop the developer’s contractors from starting work. He’d been down there on the first day of protests last Monday (February 20), some of the next day and when on the Wednesday, Northamptonshire Police began making arrests for aggravated trespass he refused to move.
“There was something about being near those beautiful trees and there were quite a lot of people milling around looking like they were willing to be arrested and I thought you can’t just walk away when they [the police] say you’ve got to go to this side of the line.
“My head said ‘don’t do this’ but my heart overruled me.”
Along with three others he was taken to a Kettering police station. The arrests were condemned by Amnesty International, however Loukes is relatively complimentary about the police’s personal treatment of him:
“They did not haul me off. One of them offered to carry my chair. We were taken to Weekley Justice Centre and they treated me very well - I had a vegan all day breakfast - and then when they let me out [at 8pm] I said ‘oh I don't know how I’m going to get home’ and this policeman said ‘I will take you home’. (There were some XR people outside who I am sure would have given me a lift) . . . . Perhaps they give me some respect because I am old really.”
Loukes was given a three-month community resolution order banning him from going near the protest area for three months. But he has no regrets and is pleased with the amount of public support the protests have been receiving.
“I was so pleased about this protest because it is not XR [Extinction Rebellion], it is not JSO [Just Stop Oil], it is just local people who got together. It was amazing the amount of cars and lorries beeping their horns in support and I thought, ‘these HGV drivers, you’d have thought they’d be pleased about a plan for a dual carriageway as it will be easier for them’.
“I only heard one negative comment the whole time. It was all just positive.”
Following his arrest and the subsequent media coverage he has received many congratulations. A leading climate activist emailed to tell him that he was her hero.
“She said I’d nailed it with my kind older gent aura.”
Another complimentary neighbour acknowledged his new ‘local celebrity’ status but said while he agreed with the protestors’ cause he didn’t think it would make much difference and the trees would still all be destroyed.
“I said: ‘Yes they probably will, but I have got to carry on trying’.”