A HELICOPTER hovered overhead and a dozen police officers surrounded the site as three protesters were evicted from the Bourne Hill Secret Garden last week.

One protester, 25-year-old local woman Briony Bell, was arrested after refusing to leave voluntarily. She was later released without charge. Another simply left and the third - an eco-warrior - kept the eviction drama going for more than an hour as he held out in a makeshift tree house, where he had been sleeping overnight.

Eventually, he was persuaded by police to come down from the 35ft sweet chestnut and meticulously packed up his camping and climbing gear before leaving the garden to cheers from local residents, who had been keeping a vigil in support of the protest.

Afterwards, the 26-year-old spoke to reporters. Identifying himself only as Dave, he said he had just returned from protesting at the destruction of rain forests in Tasmania. "I came to Salisbury just a couple of days ago after hearing what was going on here. It's hard to believe the council wants to destroy these fantastic mature trees in this lovely garden and put up a monstrosity of a glass-fronted building," he said.

A handful of protesters had been occupying the Secret Garden for almost a fortnight, frustrating Salisbury District Council's attempts to fell trees and start work on its controversial £15.4m new offices - and, last Wednesday, the council obtained High Court injunction and possession orders to remove them.

High Court enforcement officers served the notices on those occupying the Secret Garden in a swoop with security guards and police at 9am on Friday as residents, bemused by the size of the operation, looked on.

Mary Stephens, of nearby Wyndham Road, said: "I'm absolutely appalled. There were just three people in there. It's so heavy handed."

Christine Bell, whose daughter Briony was arrested, said: "In 1927, the city aldermen and Mayor Hudson (Hudsons Field in Castle Road is named after him) dedicated all grounds around Bourne Hill as open space for recreational use."

Liberal Democrat councillor, Paul Sample, also hit out at the council. He said: "They are using bully boy tactics against peaceful demonstrators and will now press ahead with, what can only be described as, a gross act of vandalism. These mature trees have been here for hundreds of years and should still be here when all of the councillors who made this decision are long gone."

Later, the council issued a statement defending its action, and saying the project to centralise offices at Bourne Hill had been carefully planned over the last four years to improve services to customers and achieve cost savings.

The statement continued: "The council's main concern throughout the last two weeks has been to protect the safely of the public, including protesters, contractors and those visiting the site and to protect the council's property - The Council House at Bourne Hill."

It added: "Earlier today, High Court enforcement officers served injunctions and possession orders on protesters. Protesters were invited to leave. One was arrested. Another protester voluntarily left the tree in which he had been for several hours.

"The police were in attendance in order to ensure processes were lawful and proportionate.

"The council now expects to be able to safely continue with the preparatory work ahead of the construction of the new offices."