EDF suing climate activists for £5 million - protesters face losing homes
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Following the week-long shut-down and occupation of EDF’s West Burton gas-fired power station last October by campaign group 'No Dash for Gas', EDF has launched a civil claim for damages against the group and associated activists for costs the company claims to have incurred – a figure it puts at £5 million .
Should the claim succeed, several of the campaigners face losing their homes, and
all could face bankruptcy or be forced to pay a percentage of their salaries to EDF for decades to come. The amount of the claim represents just 0.3% of EDF's
annual UK profits, which rose by 7.5% this year to £1.7 billion .
This is the first time an energy company has attempted such a claim, and campaigners say it represents the opening of a new front against peaceful direct action protesters. If successful, it could have a chilling effect on other groups
such as UK Uncut and Greenpeace – who use civil disobedience to challenge social and environmental problems.
Aneaka Kelly, one of the No Dash for Gas defendants said: "This un-civil action
by EDF is not about money – they've already admitted in court that they know we don't have this kind of cash. EDF just want to make sure that anyone who tries
to stand up and challenge their profiteering price hikes, shady government lobbying and climate-trashing power plants is quickly silenced by the threat of legal action.”
The activists were today convicted of aggravated trespass at Mansfield
Magistrates Court. They will be sentenced at a later date.
Sixteen campaigners occupied two chimneys at West Burton for a week in October 2012, stopping nearly 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions . The activists – 21 in tota - were found guilty of aggravated trespass at Mansfield Magistrates court today. None received custodial sentences. (add another line as to what happened).
There is evidence that Nottinghamshire Police colluded with EDF against 'No Dash for Gas' by formally serving civil papers on the activists after their arrest, and by sharing their personal data with the power company.
In one case officers served the papers on the activists’ lawyer, in another they chased an activist down the street outside the station and served the papers on
him directly, commenting, “I’m doing this as a courtesy to EDF”. Last week, the
Home Secretary was questioned in Parliament about whether this kind of
practice is routine .
The campaigners believe that Nottinghamshire Police's support for the civilclaim is part of a larger strategy to crack down on environmental protest, as evidenced by the use of extremely onerous bail conditions on the activists after their arrest. They were not allowed to associate with each other and most were subject to home curfews from 9pm to 7am. Those conditions were only
lifted once the company had ordered its own civil legal strategy against the activists. FOI documents obtained by No Dash for Gas show that a Special Advisor in the Department for Energy was liaising with the police about those bail conditions before most of the activists were even
In another incident, Counter Terrorism Command officers visited an activist
at her home to 'remind' her of her bail conditions and caution her against going
within 50 metres of E.ON's Grain Island Power Station. Deeply concerned by police involvement in the unprecedented civil claim, the activists’ lawyer Mike Schwarz of Bindmans wrote to the police asking to view CCTV footage from inside the station, only to be told it had probably been deleted as footage was only kept for three months – despite the fact that this three-month deadline had not yet passed.
Aneaka Kelly from No Dash For Gas said: “The police are meant to be working in the public interest, not acting as EDF's private police force. If I wanted to sue EDF over their pollution or their price hikes, would you expect the police to deliver the legal papers to EDF on my behalf, or hand over the names and addresses of their top executives? Somehow, I don't think so.”
The protest itself aimed to challenge the Government's plan to build up to 40 new gas-fired power stations, which would see gas accounting for over 50% of the UK's power generation over the next three decades. The Government's own Committee on Climate Change have said that a new “dash for gas” would make it impossible for the Government to meet its legally-binding carbon reduction targets, and thus would push us ever closer to the brink of unstoppable climate change .
The Committee also point out that a greater reliance on gas would increase household bills by up to six times more than a shift to renewable energy . These comments were echoed this week by the Chief Executive of Ofgem Alistair Buchanan, who warned that an increased reliance on gas will lead to higher prices in the near future . Campaigners blame the lobbying power of big energy companies like EDF for the Government's current pro-gas position  The case is reminiscent of the record-breaking “McLibel” case, when the fast food chain McDonalds sued two activists from North London from 1990-1997. Ewa
Jasiewicz, another No Dash for Gas defendant said: 'This is starting to look just like McLibel. It's a David and Goliath battle between protesters with nothing but their bodies to put in the way, and out-of-control Big Energy which has a business plan that will drive up bills, push millions into fuel poverty and crash our climate targets. We will be resisting EDF's claim every step of the way'.
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The following question was tabled last week, the Home Secretary has not yet responded:
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home
Department, what her policy is on (a) the provision of information by the
police to private companies that are planning or taking civil legal action
against protesters, where those protesters may be subject to criminal proceedings, (b) the timing of the provision of such information and (c) provision of
other practical assistance by the police to companies taking civil proceedings,
including service or quasi-service of court papers; whether her Department
has established any formal procedures or organisations to (i) facilitate the
flow of any such information and (ii) establish compliance with or breach of any such procedures and policies; and if she will make a statement.(143122)