Third man dies after explosion at Teesside power plant

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The Independent Online

A third person has died after an explosion near a transformer at a power station run by the controversial energy group, Enron. Hundreds of people were evacuated around the plant in Grangetown, Teesside, which had been closing for maintenance.

Another man is said to be in a "stable" condition. Police and the Health and Safety Executive are investigating.

Tim Underdown, chief executive of Enron Power Operations, said it was too early to say what had caused the blast at the largest plant of its kind in the world. "Our immediate concerns are for the families, friends and colleagues of the employees," he said.

Few companies have aroused the ire of the left and environmental pressure groups like Enron. Indeed, nothing illustrates New Labour's ardour for the world of commerce than its repeated willingness to take cash from Enron.

Earlier this year, Friends of the Earth listed Labour donors, which they claimed had "dodgy ethical and environmental records". Prominent among them was Enron. In 1995, the US energy group was named as one of the world's worst 10 companies by the pressure organisation, Multinational Monitor. In India, Enron has been at the centre of claims of human rights abuses involving the treatment of campaigners against its power station at Dhobal near Bombay.

The company has the unique distinction of being the only commercial body, as opposed to a government, to be the subject of an Amnesty International report. The World Bank found that Enron was charging three times as much for electricity from its plant as suppliers elsewhere in India.

In Florida, Enron has been fined for pollution, described "as the worst environmental damage from a single project" the state government had seen. Which company gave more money to George Bush's election push than any other? The Centre for Public Integrity, an American ethics group, says it was Enron. Kenneth Lay, the group's founder and chairman, donated £200,000 to the Republican cause and £670,000 more came from the company and its employees.

In 1998, Enron donated £15,000 to sponsor a dinner at the Labour conference. In all, the company has made payments to Labour totalling £27,500. In late 1998, ministers decided the company's £1.5bn take-over of Wessex Water did not merit a competition inquiry. A year later the Government partially lifted the blanket ban onnew gas-fired power stations to allow the Teesside plant to go ahead.

Then the restriction went completely, giving a green light to another Enron project, on the Isle of Grain in Kent. In January, Ralph Hodge, chairman of Enron Europe, was made a CBE.