Activists who occupied a power station for a week to highlight their opposition to producing electricity from natural gas are being sued for £5m by the owners of the plant in a move they claim will stifle the right to protest.
A statement from EDF said it supported the right to “lawful protest” but it was important anyone considering direct action should be aware “they may face consequences through civil action for the damage, cost and disruption they cause”.
Environmental groups supportive of the campaigners’ aims have condemned the action, which they claim is a punitive attempt to deter others.
John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, likened the action to the McLibel case, a legal action mounted by McDonald’s in the 1990s against two activists which dragged on for more than a decade.
“It’s difficult to imagine how we at Greenpeace could have run our campaigns against illegal rainforest timber imports or pirate fishing if every time we took direct action we were landed with a multimillion-pound bill,” he said.
“EDF’s civil claim is an attempt by a state-owned French company to undermine the British tradition of organised dissent.”
The warnings were echoed by members of other direct action groups.
Anna Walker of UK Uncut said the threat of could “crush” the organisation’s right to protest, and Joss Garman, co-founder of the anti-airport expansion group Plane Stupid said the action could leave people with “one less tool to defend themselves”.
You have every right to protest: it’s called freedom of speech. You’ve every right to form groups to do so: it’s called freedom of association. But so do other peop[le have the right to lawfully enjoy their property.
If you, in a group protest, smash a window of someone then yes, you are rightly and righteously liable for the costs of replacing that window. Why shouldn’t you be? And there is no difference between that and your being liable for lost income as a result of your actions.
Imagine, just as an absurd example, that your legal and wholly righteous demo stops me from making my way to clock on for a shift, a shift that I am paid for solely and purely by the shift. Do you owe me the money for that shift? You most assuredly do, yes (and let us sidestep the legal difficulties of proof here and think just about what is just here).
You absolutely do have the right to combine and shout while waving fists in the air. And that freedom exists and last right up to the moment that those waving fists bloody the nose of another. Damaging the property or income of another is indeed a bloodying of the nose.