Gidea Park activist escapes £238k fine - but faces jail for occupying EDF’s West Burton power station

Graham Thompson (photo: Vicki Couchman)

Graham Thompson (photo: Vicki Couchman) - Credit: Vicki Couchman

Eco-activist Graham Thompson breathed a sigh of relief this afternoon after an energy giant agreed to drop a £5million civil case against him and 20 other protestors – but the 39-year-old could still face jail next week.

The former Coopers’ and Coborn student, who grew up in Gidea Park, was part of a group that shut down a Yorkshire power station for seven days in October by scaling and occupying its chimneys.

Dubbing themselves “No Dash for Gas”, the activists had targeted the gas-fired West Burton station in protest against the government’s renewed investment in the fuel.

“The government seems to have decided on building up to 40 new gas fired power stations, which is what people are talking about when they refer to the ‘dash for gas’,” Graham, 39, told the Recorder.

“We were trying to make the point that we have to put a stop to this. It’ll make the government miss its legally binding carbon reduction targets, and it’s not just a climate issue – gas is extremely volatile in terms of price. We import it, and it could massively increase bills for everyone.”

The news came this week that the station’s owner, EDF, had dropped a £5million civil suit against Graham and his co-defendants, after a petition supporting them won 64,000 signatures – including those of Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky.

Their case attracted national interest amid accusations that the fine – which would have worked out at more than £238,000 per head – was an attempt to clamp down on the freedom to protest by scaring other activists.

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“To see so many people standing up for our right to protest and winning so quickly has made me a lot more hopeful about what lies ahead,” added Graham.

As part of the settlement with EDF, he must never enter another of the company’s power stations.

But he must wait until Wednesday to find out whether he’ll be jailed for the criminal charge of aggravated trespass.

“Part of direct action is saying: ‘This is wrong and I’m willing to stand up against it and take the consequences’,” he said.

“But the civil case meant I could have been forced to pay a big chunk of my wage for the rest of my life. Having that debt would have prevented me from ever being able to buy a house.”

If Graham and his group are sent to prison, they’ll be the first people ever jailed in the UK for protesting against climate change.

The Greenpeace worker, who now lives in Manor House but grew up in Stanley Avenue, started volunteering for the charity in Romford 12 years ago.

“To my mind, climate change is far and away the biggest threat we’re all facing,” he said, “and it’s something the government isn’t addressing with any degree of proportionality.”