Back in October, we interviewed someone from a group of "environmentalist ninjas" called No Dash for Gas, who had scaled the chimneys of a gas-fired power station in Nottinghamshire. The group stayed up there for a week in an effort to shut down its emission-belching electricity production and stop the plant expanding any further into the realm of irreversibly destroying the environment.
Their mates who decided not to climb the chimneys may still have the activists' "chicken" calls ringing in their ears, but that surely beats being on the receiving end of the £5 million lawsuit EDF energy are waging against the ninjas. Apparently charging so much for their services that people have to choose between eating and heating their homes to survive wasn't making them enough cash, so I suppose suing a bunch of lowly protesters is the only way to go to make sure their wealth stays vast rather than just large.
Big energy companies have never been environmental activists’ biggest fans – particularly those who have their shit together enough to pull off something like this, as opposed to those who just try to hug the world better – so the lawsuit isn't too much of a surprise. However, the activists have accused police of colluding with EDF in carrying out the civil action. The police hating on activists? Who would have thought it? I figured I should investigate, so I called Ewa Jasiewicz from No Dash for Gas for a chat.
Ewa doing some aggravated trespassing.
VICE: Hi Ewa. Last time we talked to you, you were up a power station. How did you get down?
Ewa Jaiewicz: The press release said that we abseiled down. We did use some ropes, but actually we climbed down. We couldn’t really abseil with all of our bags.
Another media myth shattered. So EDF are coming down pretty hard on you, huh? What are they claiming the £5 million for?
Security costs, delays to the commissioning of the power plant, contract costs, delays to the power station entering a carbon emissions trading scheme – a number of different costs that we believe are inflated. In one case, they’re claiming for the costs of a fence that didn’t exist.
You’ve also pleaded guilty to the crime of aggravated trespassing. Why?
They’ve got us bang to rights. We can’t deny that we shut down the power stations.
True – there are pictures and everything. But couldn’t you have tried a “necessity” defence; that your crime was preventing a bigger crime?
Well, the greater crime is that EDF is responsible for polluting our atmosphere and threatening our legal obligations to keep climate emissions down. But it’s hard to win those sorts of arguments in a magistrate’s court against a judge rather than a crown court with a jury.
What’s the worst case scenario here?
We could get put in prison for a maximum of three months.
Okay. You’ve been accusing the police of siding with EDF. Why is that?
The police were handing over private information – sensitive information – about us, such as our names and addresses. Also, the police were serving injunction letters to us. Those papers were served to activists in the interview room of a police station. In one case, an activist was actually chased down the road by a police officer when he was leaving the police station. He was chased by a copper who then said, “I'm handing you these papers as a courtesy to EDF.” So that's inappropriate.
So these are papers concerning the civil case? You being sued rather than anything criminal that the police are normally involved with?
Absolutely. And I personally had a visit from counter-terrorism command. They came to remind me of my bail conditions and they specifically told me not to go near an E.ON-owned gas-fired power plant on Grain Island. It came out this week that E.ON have been lobbying government for harsher sentences on climate activists. So it was like they were acting on behalf of E.ON.
Do the Nottinghamshire police have any previous involvement in the whole thing?
Nottinghamshire police were the police force responsible for Mark Kennedy's infiltration – a deep undercover agent who was active in the movement for years, so we were feeling that there might be a grudge within Nottingham's police force against climate activists based on that history. Because the police couldn’t infiltrate it and prevent it from happening, they’re now trying to prevent these kinds of actions from happening in the future by clamping down on it with these mega-civil actions to threaten protesters with debt and losing their homes.
The bigger picture is that we have to take action in defence of our environment, our communities and a secure climate. I think when people think of climate change, they sometimes think of polar bears floating on bits of ice. But we’re also seeing the bread and butter rising of energy bills and fuel poverty and the fact that over 7,000 people died in this country last year because they couldn’t afford to heat their homes, and energy bills are still going up year on year. The dash for gas has no answer for that. What we really need is a community-controlled energy system.
Don’t you wish you'd stayed at home writing email petitions on Avaaz.org or something?
None of us have any regrets. It was a vital action to take. We knew the risks; we were prepared to take them. It doesn’t end here.
After I talked to Ewa, I phoned up the Nottinghamshire police to ask why they’re helping EDF with a civil case. They weren’t as chatty as Ewa, but despite the testimonies of the activists, they denied that cops served papers. They say they did give the papers to a solicitor representing one of the activists, but that was as a courtesy. How nice of them.
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