The energy company EDF has launched a civil claim for £5m in damages against a group of activists who shut down one of its gas-fired power stations in a week-long protest last year.
A group of 21 protesters from the campaign group No Dash for Gas climbed two chimneys at EDF’s West Burton plant in Nottinghamshire last October in a demonstration over Government plans to build 20 gas-fired power stations.
The group pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass at Mansfield Magistrates Court yesterday for their part in the protest, and are awaiting sentencing.
EDF is claiming damages of up to £5m from the activists, and from the No Dash for Gas group, for losses in claims it incurred as a result of the protest, including lost profits from the delay in commissioning the power station and staffing and security costs.
The action was criticised last night by other campaigning groups as a threat to the right of peaceful protest.
Ewa Jasiewicz, one of the defendants in the case, compared the action to the McLibel case – referring to a lawsuit filed by McDonalds against two activists who produced a pamphlet critical of the company.
“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.”
Greenpeace said the action sought to “undermine the British tradition of organised dissent”.
Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: “It's difficult to imagine how we at Greenpeace could have run our successful campaigns against illegal rainforest timber imports or pirate fishing if every time we took direct action we were landed with a multi-million pound bill.
“EDF's civil claim is an attempt by a state-owned French company to undermine the British tradition of organised dissent,” he told Channel 4.
In a statement, EDF said it “supports the right to lawful protest” but insisted that those carrying out protests must pay for the costs they incur.
“The consequences of this illegal activity put lives at risk, caused considerable disruption to the site during its construction, and considerable financial losses,” the statement said.
“It also delayed the completion of the new power station – part of a massive investment in the UK's energy supply which will provide enough electricity for 1.5m homes. It is important that those considering this kind of action understand that they may face consequences through civil action for the damage, cost and disruption they cause.”