Activist's battle against waste dump could end in jail

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The Independent Online

Dr Peter Harbour enjoyed taking in the wildlife while walking around lakes near his home in Oxfordshire for nearly 30 years.

So when a multinational energy company announced it was going to fill them in with 60,000 tons of waste material from its nearby power station at Didcot, like many people in his community, he was determined to stop them. But the retired nuclear physicist's decision to join the small local pressure group Save Radley Lakes opposing RWE npower's plans has left him facing the terrifying prospect of a jail sentence and financial ruin.

The 68-year-old with a history of heart trouble is now subject to what civil liberties campaigners argue is a draconian court order restricting his legitimate freedom to oppose the scheme. The order was framed under anti-stalker legislation by the same lawyers who drafted the controversial injunction sought by BAA against climate-change protesters at Heathrow last month. He has been warned that if he breaches its terms he could go to prison for up to five years.

Opposing the injunction in the High Court might result in the grandfather of seven being left with a legal bill for npower's costs, totalling several hundred thousand pounds. After being served with the injunction, and four thick dossiers of evidence gathered against him, he began suffering chest pains and slipped into depression. He said "It was a shocking thing. I felt bullied. I didn't know I was in depression - nothing like this had ever happened to me before. By June I was completely dysfunctional."

Dr Harbour's wife, Gunilla, 63, was forced to watch her husband's health deteriorate. She was also concerned about the impact on his reputation. "He was very proud of his career. He wouldn't risk it by doing something stupid," she said.

The stakes were raised at Radley Lakes last Christmas when environmental activists from outside the area squatted on a house adjacent to the threatened lake. Their presence was welcomed by local people but prompted the fury of RWE npower, which last quarter declared profits in excess of £1bn.

The company gained an eviction order and then, advised by the solicitors Lawson-Cruttenden, went in search of an injunction against six men including Dr Harbour.

Under its far-reaching terms, all protests, encampments and even press photography were banned on the 12-hectare site and the surrounding area, which is now patrolled by the energy company's masked security guards.

Backed by Liberty, the case returned to the High Court where a judge limited the original scope and geographic area of the injunction which, it was argued, would have criminalised children from setting up tents in back gardens close to the lake. But key parts of the injunction remained in force pending a full trial, particularly the use of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 but also clauses that banned Dr Harbour and others from as much as speaking the names of npower employees or driving to his local gravel merchants.

npower insists that it was right to have injuncted Dr Harbour, claiming his behaviour was "erratic and threatening" at the time of the protest and evictions. The company claims that the retired Open University tutor struck two of its employees with his VW camper van and intimidated staff with a camcorder - allegations he strongly denies and which have never been proved.

"We felt like we were living in a Kafka-esque world," recalls Mrs Harbour. "We thought our emails were being intercepted and our phone calls listened to. We were paranoid, completely paranoid. It was horrible."

Dr Harbour has declined npower's offer to accept an undertaking agreeing to abide by the terms of the injunction in return for having his name removed from it and being exempted from any possible costs.

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