The energy company behind a proposed multi-million pound wind farm has come under fire after its paid consultants allegedly became heavy-handed with a couple who refused to sign their ‘petition’.
The group of men have been setting up stall in Burton and Uttoxeter, claiming to be environmentalists who support Airtricity’s planned development at Bagots Park, near Abbots Bromley.
However, the company later admitted that they were actually paid consultants employed to gather signatures in support of the farm, after complaints were received about their conduct.
The row blew up after Abbots Bromley resident Jeanette Laird said that she and her husband were accosted by the gang in High Street, Uttoxeter, earlier this week.
She told The Mail that the men became ‘obnoxious’ when she refused to sign documentation supporting the wind farm.
One of the men then become aggressive when she tried to take their photograph, even threatening the couple with legal action, Mrs Laird said. There is, in fact, no law against taking anybody’s photograph in a public street.
The mother-of two said that she was left so traumatised by the incident that she was unable to return to the town the following day for fear of a further confrontation.
The 49-year-old said: “I was just so shocked and appalled by this experience. I was literally shaking with anger and disbelief.
“This man was claiming to be an environmentalist – despite being armed with all the formal Airtricity documents – and he tried to force me to sign the pro-wind turbine petition.
“When I refused, he turned nasty and told me and my husband that he was ‘sick of people like us’ – he wasn’t at all interested in generating debate.
“‘His intention was to get as many signatures as possible – no matter how he got them.
“After he started to get aggressive, I pulled out my mobile phone and tried to take a picture of the stand because I was so upset by what was happening.
“I used my mobile phone camera and the next minute, the same aggressive man pushed his face into mine and shouted that if I published the photograph, he would sue me.”
The couple said they then contacted Airtricity – which has formally submitted a planning application to East Staffordshire Borough Council to build eight 300ft wind turbines at the site – to complain.
However, far from receiving the apology they felt they were entitled to, Mrs Laird said they were later told by Airtricity project manager Alex Fornal that they were in fact responsible for sparking off the confrontation by taking an ‘unauthorised photograph’.
Borough council leader Alex Fox is fighting the wind farm application in his role as Bagots ward councillor, along with Crown ward councillor Robert Hardwick.
He said: “Both Councillor Hardwick and myself have become increasingly concerned about Airtricity’s activities in both Burton and Uttoxeter town centres.
“These so-called consultants who try to draw up support without explaining both sides of the argument is a grossly unfair tactic.”
An Airtricity spokesman told the Mail that the group were not employees of the company, but were hired by the firm as consultants.
Mr Fornal confirmed that a complaint had been received on the day but said that, after speaking to both parties, he was happy that the company’s ‘street campaigners’ had acted in a totally professional manner.
John Everett, one of the consultants in Uttoxeter this week, said: “There are many people who were thrilled to see us there because it gives them the opportunity to express support that they feel they have hitherto been denied.”
However, he also acknowledged that Mrs Laird was within her legal rights to take a photograph of the company stand because it was located in a public place.
7 March 2008
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