Campaigners hailed a major victory today after a public backlash forced energy giant EDF to back down over its controversial £5 million damages claim against environmental protesters who occupied a new gas-fired power plant.
More than 64,000 people signed a petition urging EDF to drop the claim and customers took to social media saying they were switching to other companies in protest.
The multinational threatened to sue after members of the No Dash For Gas group attempted to halt the construction of its West Burton plant in Nottinghamshire, last October, in a week-long protest that saw them scale two 300ft chimneys.
Twenty-one people pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass last month and are awaiting sentence, with some potentially facing custodial sentences.
Seventeen of the defendants will be sentenced on March 20 with the remaining four being sentenced two weeks later, on April 2.
EDF announced it was seeking to bring a £5m damages claim for money spent and lost during the occupation.
The company confirmed today that it had dropped the legal action but said the protesters had agreed in principle to accept a permanent injunction which prevents them from entering multiple sites operated by the company.
One of the protesters, 35-year-old Hannah Davey, from London, said: "This is a huge victory, but sadly it's not enough by itself.
"Our homes and financial futures are now safe from EDF's lawyers but millions of people won't be safe from fuel poverty and the effects of climate change if the government and the energy companies' reckless gas expansion plans are allowed to go ahead.
"We need to stop the dash for gas before it crashes our carbon targets and makes the UK dependent on an expensive, imported and highly polluting fuel for decades to come."
In a statement EDF said: "Our aim was always to protect a vital infrastructure project, which forms part of a massive investment in the UK's energy supply, from dangerous and costly disruption."
It claimed that it respected the right to protest lawfully but that the group who broke into the site put their lives at risk and forced hundreds of workers off site.
The company said it supported renewable energy but added: "In order to keep the lights on in Britain, a mixture of energy sources is needed."
Friends of the Earth senior political campaigner Liz Hutchins said: "EDF's threat of claiming massive damages from the activists represented a new low in corporate attempts to stifle the democratic right to protest.
"Let's hope the public outcry will make other companies think twice before similar legal action."
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