As we sneaked around preparing for the Heathrow Climate Camp in 2007, we could hardly believe our luck when the British Aviation Authority took out a injunction so wide ranging and absurd that it prohibited the entire membership of RSPB and the National Trust from travelling on the Piccadilly Line. It failed in it’s stated aim to prevent the camp.
You can’t buy that kind of publicity, or at least we can’t afford to. That’s why news that EDF are suing “No Dash for Gas” activists for a cool £5 million can only be good news and a boost for their campaign. (That is not to dismiss the extreme personal pressure that those named on the civil action will be under).
There are many other campaigns which have benefited from these heavy handed legal tactics. The most infamous is the McLibel case, but a lesser known one which I was drawn to by the very action designed to stifle it was the “Smash EDO” anti arms campaign based in Brighton.
Until the injunction, pursued by the amusingly incompetent legal firm Lawson Cruttenden & Co in 2005, it was a persistent but small local campaign. The injunction, which basically prohibited any kind of protest, legal or otherwise from happening became a civil liberties ’cause célèbre’, ignited a couple of mass days of action which came close to riots, and inspired a group of people, during the bombardment of Palestine in 2009 to literally “Smash EDO”, putting the factory out of use for a while and causing £200,000 worth of damages.
Not only that, but the injunction itself collapsed in court, costing EDO MBM in legal costs of between £1 m & £1.5m – more than an entire year’s profit.
But, then, why do corporations continue to engage in such costly litigation, when it only can boost the campaigns against them? Fear and paranoia that such actions will catch on, and put them out of business seems to be the answer. This analysis seems to be supported by recent revelations that another energy firm – E.ON – had been lobbying Ministers for harsh sentencing for direct action(s) taken against them.
While the personal cost to those who have taken on these behemoths in the past has been great – including interference in personal lives by undercover police, as well as the more manageable but still disruptive civil and legal actions, if the old adage that you should “do what your enemy least wants you to do” is true then, “Dash for Gas” seem to be on the right lines.