In October 2007, Ben Stewart and five of his Greenpeace colleagues scaled the 650ft chimney stack at Kingsnorth Power Station in Kent to stage a protest at proposals to build a new "super-polluting" plant on the site. Last month a jury found them not guilty of causing £30,000 worth of criminal damage.
After nine hours scaling a ladder with the equivalent weight of a small adult on your back, you should be able to sleep. But not when you're squatting on top of the 200-metre chimney stack of a power station. That's where I found myself, this time last year, following days of preparation. Using Google Earth, myself and eight fellow Greenpeace campaigners had scoped the grounds of Kent's Kingsnorth power station. An informer had been inside of the building, so we knew what to expect.
Nine of us set out at 5.30am on a cold October morning. Dressed in black, we crawled across a dark field, carefully avoiding the overhead lights; the silhouette of the power station loomed ahead. The tower is so high it seemed as if we crawled for ages without getting any closer. Finally we reached the foot of the tower, and found a small entrance door. We had 50kg worth of kit each, including tools to prise open the door and lock it firmly behind us, and other provisions. Once that was done, we knew we had a few hours.
Our intelligence had told us there'd be a staircase leading to the top of the tower. In fact there was just a thin service ladder. We took turns climbing the ladder and heaving the kit behind us. This included water, food, paint and communications equipment. We were dressed in warm outdoor gear, and with CO2 rising [in the core of the tower] at 220C – and at 120mph – it was like scaling the inside of a giant oven. Good friendships were forged that night; we reached a level of pain none of us could have imagined.
Finally, we reached the top and the last passage – a small door to the outside where a rusty ladder completed the final 10 metres. Police cars weaved through the village towards us. And as we stuck our heads out of top of the stack, after nine hours in the tower, we knew we'd made the right choice. The fresh air hit us, as we took in the view, with the four flues behind us, pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. It was a haunting moment.
We rested before running ropes over the side of the power station, and set about painting the words "Gordon Bin It" down the tower. This was a protest against Brown's bid to build more power stations. Hovering police helicopters served us an injunction from the High Court, as we painted. We were charged with criminal damage, and later pleaded not guilty in court. The jury decided the impact of the [proposed] power station on the environment was more damaging than our impact on Kingsnorth Tower. The wrong people had stood in the dock.
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