A green energy company is taking legal advice over comments made by south Norfolk MP Richard Bacon at a public meeting to discuss the firm’s proposal for a seven turbine wind farm.
Enertrag claims that comments made by Mr Bacon at the public meeting in Hempnall on Friday, which were reported in Saturday’s EDP, were defamatory and says it has written to the MP to give him the opportunity to issue a full retraction of the statement.
Enertrag were slated for failing to send a representative to the parish council organised meeting, which was attended by about 200 people.
The meeting was designed to give people the opportunity to air their views and ask questions about the proposed 130m high turbines.
At the meeting, Mr Bacon said: “It is a great disappointment to me that Enertrag cannot be bothered to turn up. If there’s really nothing to worry about you would think they’d be looking for every single opportunity and here there are 200 people present. I think that speaks volumes about their attitude.”
Last night Enertrag released a statement in which the firm claimed that Mr Bacon’s comments were defamatory and said it was taking legal advice.
“Enertrag UK refer to comments made by the Rt Hon Richard Bacon during a publicly advertised meeting called by Hempnall Parish Council on November 2, 2007. Enertrag notified Hempnall Parish Council of the reasons for not wishing to attend the meeting on October 9, 2007.
“The statement by MP Richard Bacon is defamatory to Enertrag UK Ltd who are currently taking legal advice on this matter. In the meantime Enertrag have written to MP Richard Bacon giving him the opportunity to issue a full retraction of the statement.”
Reacting to the news last night, Mr Bacon said: “I have not seen Enertrag’s letter. However, I find it extraordinary that they should contemplate legal action. It is not customary to sue the local MP for doing his job and saying what constituents think.
“The meeting in Hempnall village hall was an excellent opportunity for Enertrag to put their case to a large number of people and I regret that they chose not to attend.”
Speaking before Friday’s meeting, Enertrag project engineer Terry Chapelhow told the EDP that the firm had advised the parish council in advance of their decision not to attend. “We find from past experience that these meetings turn into a public circus and are hijacked. We feel we have done adequate consultation with people at various exhibitions in the area,” he said.
The Diss-based company was granted consent for a meteorological mast at the site earlier this year and Mr Chapelhow said they would submit a planning application for the turbines after Christmas.
Sarah Webb, head of media and libel at Russell, Jones and Walker solicitors in London last night said that while newspaper reports of public meetings are protected from defamation through qualified privilege as long as they are fair and accurate, it would still be possible for a claim to be brought against someone who was considered to have made defamatory comments at the meeting under slander law.
Mark Stephens, a libel law specialist at Finers Stephens Innocent in London added: “Slander is much more difficult to prove than libel.
“You would have to show some financial loss, and I don’t they would be able to do that. This smacks of bully boy tactics to me. I think we should allow the south Norfolk MP to continue to speak.”
By Emily Dennis
8 November 2007
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