ANTI-ROAD campaigners have labelled Southend Council “cowards” after they were arrested for storming a meeting.

The group of seven who battled to stop the widening of Priory Crescent were nicknamed Camp Cuckoo and were protesting about the way their eviction was handled by the council.

At a full council meeting, they threw papers from the balcony into the chamber amid catcalls and anti-council songs.

Council members filed out as the campaigners were restrained by police.

Protester Patsy Link called out: “You are cowards for not listening to us.

“You gave us no notice at Cuckoo Corner and you hauled us up in front of the courts in just two days. Shame on the lot of you.”

Police officers, including two in plain clothes, escorted eight people from the council building and arrested seven to prevent a breach of the peace.

The protesters set up camp at Cuckoo Corner in February after the council announced it was to begin work to widen the Priory Crescent approach to the junction, chopping down 16 trees.

After delaying the start of work for several weeks, the group was served with High Court eviction papers naming 12 people, several of whom the protesters said had nothing to do with their campaign.

They were then evicted and ordered to pay £5,445 court costs.

Speaking after his release from police custody, protester Mark Sharp, 40, from Southend, said: “The reason we went down there was we wanted to ask the council why ordinary members of the public, with no relation to Camp Cuckoo, were dragged through the legal system and slapped with costs when they were completely unconnected.”

He added the group had been planning to wait until the end of the meeting to make their stand, but felt they had to act after a police officer already at the meeting approached them and confiscated a banner.

Police spokeswoman Julia Pack said police officers were already at the Civic Centre on Thursday night because there had been previous disruptions at full council meetings.

Southend Council’s chief executive Rob Tinlin said: “Our council meetings are open to the public so people can hear the debates and watch the democratic process being undertaken.

“However, if a person or group causes a disturbance or attempts to disrupt the business of the council, or is abusive, as happened on Thursday, we need to take action to ensure the business of the council can be properly conducted.

“Where people continue to be disruptive or refuse to leave the gallery we then have no option but to seek the assistance of the police, as we did last night. This is the second meeting in a row where the council has been interrupted.”