19 August 1997

PowerGen settles Kent orimulsion claim out of court

By Tim Relf

A KENT farming family has won its High Court fight for compensation from electricity giant PowerGen.

Dennis and Sallie Clifton served a writ against the company in Feb 1995, claiming emissions from Richborough Power Station had damaged crops on 324ha (800-acre) Abbey Farm, Minster between 1991 and 1995.

At the time, Richborough was burning orimulsion, a controversial bitumen-based, Venezuelan fuel. The family also sought an injunction to stop use of the fuel at the site which, at its closest, is within a few hundred yards of their farm.

The hearing lasted 59 days, making it one of the longest ever involving a farmer. During that time, the court heard how a "peculiar form of damage" had been seen in Iceburg lettuce, brussels sprouts and spring greens.

"Black lesions which resembled burn marks" had been evident, reducing yields and leaving big quantities unsaleable, claimed the Cliftons.

Such damage, the court was told, had become evident only after Richborough became orimulsion-fired. And by the 1991/92 season, the family had been growing brussels for 32 years.

PowerGen, the countrys second-biggest electricity generator, denied the claims. But the two sides reached an out-of-court settlement last week, just hours before the judge was due to rule.

One condition of the agreement is that neither side can talk about the details. Speculation, however, is that a seven-figure sum could be involved. The Cliftons, who had the full support of their landlord, Prudential, have also been backed by the NFU.

NFU legal adviser Richard Vidal says High Court actions, which can be long-winded and complicated, are often geared against small businesses such as farmers.

Richborough closed in 1996 – a decision unrelated to the Clifton case and taken on "commercial grounds", according to PowerGen. Its other station which had been using orimulsion at Ince, Cheshire closed earlier this year.

A spokesman said the company had no plans to reintroduce the fuel at present.

Dennis Clifton, pictured in front of Richborough earlier this year.