MP accuses National Grid of "sending in thugs"

Is there another democratic deficit in Welsh politics?

Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies posted this on Facebook: "Interesting how events at Westminster are diminishing in public interest in Wales. If I'd made my yesterday's speech in the Assembly, it would have made the news. But at Westminster no-one in Wales noticed! Could be a good thing!! Whatever, devolution marches on."

So what newsworthy event did we miss? Mr Davies was talking about this speech delivered during Tuesday's debate on the energy bill.

In it, he said that on the question of wind energy projects "my constituents do not believe that the Government care one jot for what they think and what they say". Hmmm....a Conservative MP saying that is quite newsy, although not unique these days.

The rest of Mr Davies's speech might have come closer to troubling the scorers, news-wise. He used the legal protection of parliamentary privilege to accuse National Grid of sending in "heavies" and "thugs" to intimidate landowners opposed to the building of wind farms in northern Powys.

Mr Davies said representatives of National Grid, shouted and swore at a local councillor as they tried to serve notices entitling them to access his land on which pylons to carry electricity into Shropshire would be built.

He added: "A further issue that causes me shock and disgust is how National Grid has behaved and is behaving. The project that I am talking about is a very big project in my constituency; it involves about 500 wind turbines and 100 miles of cable, 50 km of which are on 150-foot high steel pillars. Not surprisingly, landowners have not been keen to co-operate with National Grid and to allow it on their land, so National Grid sent in the heavies. In truth, it has sent in thugs.

"I have an e-mail here that I only wish I could read out, because it is so shocking. It comes from Councillor Gwynfor Thomas, a recently elected county councillor for an area affected. I can just refer to one or two points that he makes.

"He is a man of unquestionable integrity and he begins by saying that he was visited by two gentleman who approached the door with envelopes, and said, "Mr Thomas, I have these for you." They looked threatening and he asked them for some ID. They said they did not have it and would get it from their van and come back.

"Some time later they came back but he was on the telephone and his daughter answered the door. She clearly saw a threatening individual. The daughter and Councillor Thomas's wife retreated to the kitchen. He went to speak to the man and they finished up nose to nose with the man shouting at him, "Take these, Mr Thomas," and he threw them out and walked away. Mr. Thomas walked after him, and as he walked away the man shouted, "Goodbye, Mr Thomas," 10 times, in a shockingly intimidating manner.

"It gets worse. Later that day Councillor Thomas called at a property that he owns. There were two vans blocking the gate so he tooted the horn to go in, and he found that it was the same people employed by National Grid to enforce its policy. During the conversation, they used the f-word at least three times, an example of gross profanity. Councillor Thomas rang National Grid to tell it, but it seemed not to care. It talked about them being process servers, not bailiffs. This is shocking behaviour."

The claims were rejected by National Grid, whose project manager Jeremy Lee said:

"We were very concerned to hear of the complaint made by Councillor Thomas. We have looked into the allegations that have been made and we are confident all our staff and representatives are working in line with the high standards we expect from them.

"The process servers issuing notices on our behalf are employed by a large and well respected company who adhere to a high standard of professional conduct. They often work in an environment where their presence is unwelcome and it is an integral part of their job to defuse rather than create conflict situations."

It added: "We need to gain access to private land to conduct surveys that will help us give the wider community more certainty about our proposed electricity connection. After months of negotiation with landowners, we have been unable to reach voluntary agreement with a minority. For that reason we have had to issue notices to enforce our legal rights of access, and we understand this will make some unhappy. It was not a decision we took lightly."