A security guard knelt on an older man’s neck as fellow guards manhandled him in clashes with protestors over the felling of a tree in Battersea’s York Gardens this morning.
Footage shows the private security officers chasing after the Wandsworth resident as he runs towards the fence around the tree and three guards restraining him, with one pressing down on his chest and another with his knee on the man’s neck.
The man can be heard to say “I can’t breathe” as other protestors tell the security guard to “Get off him” and “Take your knee off” before he lifts his leg.
He was taken to hospital as a precaution and another protestor who witnessed the incident said the man was in a state of ‘shock’ and ‘shaking’ afterwards.
Battersea resident Lu Curtis said: “There’s a lot of private security here, and they are very threatening, so if anyone gets too close, they’re immediately in their face.
“Then of course that just inflames angers more, so it escalated quite a bit, to the stage where one of the people standing here got very angry and was heading for the fence.
“Three private security guards grabbed him and knelt on him, including on his neck. Horrifically, the police were here and they were just watching.
“I leapt in and told the security guards to step back, screamed at them to step back, and they did. But that gentleman has now been taken to hospital.
“By the time I started shouting, there were a lot of other people who were very upset about it and were screaming at them. And I was standing there shouting ‘Step back!’ to get the guards to release him, which they did.
“The gentleman was very shocked afterwards because I don’t think he was expecting that level of violence. He was shaking and he said he didn’t feel quite right.
“It was very shocking to see, because they had their knees on his shoulders and on his back. And you do kind of think that that wouldn’t happen in this country somehow. And yet there it was, right in front of me this morning.
“I had to shout a number of times before they would move. There’s a young woman here who’s probably in her 20s and she was screaming at them because she was so horrified about the knee on the neck, and they were pulling and pushing her off.
“They knocked over another young woman as they were rushing towards him and someone else banged their head. It was horrid.”
Curtis said the man is an elderly resident who lives near York Gardens and is “horrified by the number of trees that are going to be lost” as part of the regeneration of Wandsworth’s Winstanley and York Road estates.
This morning a group of around 20 protestors gathered around the 100-year-old black poplar tree, which is the first of 124 set to be cut down as part of the proposed redevelopment.
Wandsworth Council’s tree officers class it as an asset that can only be cut down if there are compelling reasons to do so and it has become a battleground for residents and environmental activists.
Celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, Sting and Sir Bob Geldof have come out in support of the protestors’ cause, while they have received widespread encouragement from Wandsworth residents.
The felling began last Friday when tree surgeons cut half of the poplar’s branches and stopped after the company tasked with the job, Graftin Gardeners, received emails, phone calls and tweets from those opposed to the felling, according to protestors.
An independent activist supported by Extinction Rebellion spent nearly three weeks living in the tree’s branches to stop it being cut down before being removed by climbers on Friday.
Another team of contractors started cutting down parts of the tree early this morning, and Curtis said protestors were running towards the fence around the tree ‘in waves’ to try and stop the felling.
She said that only a ‘quarter’ of the tree was now left, while adding that she was ‘heartbroken’.
The council argue the tree will make way for 136 new council homes for low-income residents but protestors say it should be possible to have new homes and mature trees.
Curtis said: “This is the first of 124 trees that are going to be lost on this estate as part of the redevelopment, and with some better planning, it doesn’t have to be that way.
“A lot of the people here feel they don’t have a voice because they’re beholden to the council for their homes.
“This tree has given them a voice. It’s given them some bravery, a bit of hope to say ‘Actually, I can say something, I can be heard.’”
Winstanley & York Regeneration, the joint venture behind the redevelopment, said: “The safety of the protestors, local residents, our staff and operatives is our absolute priority.
“The felling of the tree is being carried out with the cooperation of the police, who we are in regular contact with.
“We are reviewing the current situation with the security contractor on site, alongside the police.”
The security firm employed by the joint venture, the BML Group, has been contacted for comment.