BP drops pounds 1.4m damages lawsuit

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The Independent Online
Frozen bank accounts belonging to Greenpeace and several of the organisation's prominent members were freed up yesterday after BP suspended a pounds 1.4m damages action.

The lawsuit, which some environmentalists believed represented the start of a campaign to bankrupt Greenpeace, was dropped when campaigners agreed not to "unlawfully" interfere with BP's attempts to find new oil deposits in the Atlantic Ocean.

The activists, senior directors Sarah Burton and Chris Rose, campaigner Liz Pratt and the captain of MV Greenpeace, John Castle, were named in summonses issued by the High Court in Edinburgh following Greenpeace's week-long occupation of the Stena Dee drilling rig in the Foinaven field, West of Shetland, earlier this month.

BP successfully argued that the protesters should compensate it for the pounds 100,000-a-day rental charge of the platform and other costs. A "schedule of arrestment" was issued from the Edinburgh Court of Sessions, seeking pounds 1.4m from the group and the four members and "all moveable things in your hands belonging or obtaining to them".

However, following talks with Greenpeace, BP suspended the threat. "These discussions and the continuance of the existing court orders should allow us to get on with developing Foinaven free from the risk of unlawful interference in the field or with the vessels serving in it," the company said in a statement.

Furthermore, in a letter to Greenpeace, BP said: "BP has never sought, and is not now seeking, to stifle legitimate campaigning by Greenpeace." It would, however, act again if campaigns became unlawful, the company added.

Greenpeace was hailing the announcement as a victory, although there is still an injunction in place preventing direct action against BP's operations in the Foinaven field. Greenpeace is to make a legal challenge against the granting of exploration licences by the Government to BP and 20 other oil companies which it believes are operating unlawfully in their attempts to find new stocks of oil.

It claims the Government failed to carry out environmental impact surveys before granting the licences. Its experts believe fragile reefs could be damaged by the exploration.

Chris Rose, deputy executive director of Greenpeace, said: "Public support has led BP to back down. They should be given some credit for listening, but the only thanks due are those owed to our supporters. They should now stop oil exploration in the Atlantic.

"Greenpeace will continue to exercise its freedom to campaign against the oil industry's role in climate change, and, in particular, the totally unjustifiable expansion of fossil fuels, at a time when the climate cannot sustain the use of existing reserves. The campaign on the Atlantic Frontier and in the Arctic will continue."

A spokesman for the organisation said it had given an undertaking to the court not to do anything unlawful in the Foinaven field.

But Greenpeace was resisting earlier attempts by BP to limit its activities in the whole area west of the Shetlands. "That is an awful lot of sea and we would not be restricted to that," he said. "Now we are just limited in the Foinaven field."

Proceedings against Captain Castle are not completely at an end. He will appear at the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh today, in relation to a breach of an earlier order.