Article published: Friday, June 7th 2013
Climate activists have said they hope to “encourage and inspire” people to fight for democracy and strike back against climate change after escaping prison sentences for successfully shutting down a gas-fired power plant last year.
“No Dash for Gas” campaigners who occupied EDF’s newly constructed West Burton power plant for eight days last October, five of whom are from Manchester, were sentenced yesterday at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court.
The 21 campaigners were warned beforehand that some of them should expect prison terms. But instead they received lesser though still punitive sentences, with five given 18-month conditional discharges and the remaining 16 receiving 150 – 200 hours of community service.
The protesters argue that the expansion of gas power plants in the UK, led by the government and major energy companies, will worsen global warming and force millions more people into fuel poverty through greater reliance on gas fossil fuels.
On sentencing, the judge said, “All of you are highly educated men and women, industrious committed individuals who work and volunteer in your communities. Your motives were genuine.” He added: “What you planned, you executed to perfection.”
Activist Ewa Jasiewicz said campaigners had felt “a great wave of relief” on not being jailed for the action. Earlier the group had been subject to an aborted civil suit by EDF, which had attempted to sue for an unprecedented £5 million before backing down in the face of massive outcry including a 64,000 – strong petition.
An attempt by prosecutors to apply for anti social behaviour orders (ASBO) was also slapped down by the judge, who asked, “Is this an attempt at silencing legitimate protest?”
Jasiewicz said she hoped the action had “encouraged and inspired people to think about climate change and direct action” in political struggles. “We need to win power, it’s not just about stopping gas”, she said, arguing that “what we’re really facing is a power crisis” in the “destruction of legal aid, the welfare state [and] civil liberties”.
She added that “fuel poverty, food scarcity, economic apartheid and disaster capitalism” were “only going to get worse” unless people organise to stop them. She also claimed that the climate movement “is different now” since the 2008 financial crash, arguing that “the difference is a lot of people joined the dots between climate change, war, capitalism and class war”.
Longsight activist Rachel Thompson said, “Although – thank goodness – none of us are going to jail, we are still facing penalties for simply standing up for clean, safe and affordable energy.
“Meanwhile, everyone in the country will be facing a disastrously destabilised climate and rocketing fuel bills if we don’t stop the Government’s reckless dash for gas. The Government is putting the profits of the Big Six energy companies before the fundamental need for a safe and liveable climate for generations to come.”
An EDF statement said, “Protestors who broke into the West Burton gas power station last October were arrested by Nottinghamshire Police and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service. Today’s sentencing was solely a matter for the Magistrates’ Court.
“EDF Energy’s civil case against the protestors was settled in March after they agreed to accept a permanent injunction preventing them from entering multiple EDF Energy sites. Following this agreement, the company dropped its claim for civil damages against the protestors.”
The company added, “EDF Energy has invited a range of groups and individuals – including No Dash For Gas – to discuss the company’s response to such demonstrations in future. This is being led by Will Hutton, Chairman of EDF Energy’s independent Stakeholder Advisory Panel, alongside panel member, Tamara Ingram. They will also be supported by an independent legal adviser. An advisory report will be presented to the Panel and the findings will be published in due course.
“We share the protestors’ commitment to tackling climate change.”
Jasiewicz however said the campaign intends to return to West Burton power station for a four day “reclaim the power” action camp from 17 – 20 August. “Reclaim the Power is about just that – reclaiming the power to decide where our energy comes from, what we use it for and how we organise our society in the public interest”, she said. “A decentralised, renewable, publicly-owned energy system is both possible and necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change and ever-worsening fuel poverty”.
This time Jasiewicz said she hoped a wider group would feel encouraged to join in. “It is possible to do big, bold action without being busted by the state”, she said, adding that a “mass action” was needed to “inspire people” and “stick a flag in the sand”.
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