Climate protesters target BP and Drax shareholder meetings

Climate protesters have targeted British energy firms BP and Drax as they held their annual shareholder meetings.

Broadcaster Chris Packham and members of the Axe Drax campaign group gathered outside the meeting at 133 Houndsditch in the City of London on Thursday.

Dozens of protesters crowded the building’s entrance with banners reading: “Stop burning trees” and “Invest in green energy”, and shouting “Axe Drax. Reparations now”.

The firm, which runs the UK’s largest power station in North Yorkshire and burns wood pellets to generate electricity, has been accused of causing environmental destruction and pollution across its supply chain.

As the meeting began, chief executive Will Gardiner and chairwoman Andrea Bertone were repeatedly interrupted by protesters who were then carried from the room by members of the security team.

A protester during a demonstration outside BP’s AGM
A protester during a demonstration outside BP’s AGM in Sunbury-on-Thames (Fossil Free London/PA)

The chaotic scene saw people trying to storm the stage and delivering a choir rendition of “Hit the Road Drax”.

Meanwhile, four people were arrested as members of campaign group Fossil Free London tried to disrupt BP’s meeting at its offices in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey.

Protesters had planned to interrupt chief executive Murray Auchincloss’s opening remarks but they were blocked from entering the building by security teams.

Shouting could still be heard from outside as chairman Helge Lund opened the meeting, with protesters chanting: “Shut down BP. You’ve got blood on your hands.”

Surrey Police said one man and two women were arrested for conspiracy to commit criminal damage and another woman was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and common assault on a security officer.

The force said red liquid was thrown during a routine search by security staff as the four tried to enter the building.

During the meeting, a woman representing Hussein Julood, who is threatening legal action against the oil giant over the death of his 21-year-old son Ali, confronted the board.

Mr Julood claims that flaring – the burning off of gas at the BP-run Rumaila oil field in Iraq – caused his son’s leukaemia.

In a statement read out by the woman, he said: “You claim to have reduced gas flaring but a huge amount is still ongoing, filling the sky with thick black smoke.”

“While I seek reparations for my son’s death, Ali’s mother and I can never be compensated for the pain in our hearts,” he added.

Chris Packham and members of the Axe Drax campaign group outside the Drax AGM
Chris Packham and members of the Axe Drax campaign group outside the Drax AGM in the City of London (Merry Dickinson/PA)

Mr Lund said he would not comment on legal claims at the meeting, but added: “I want to repeat our condolences and how deeply saddened we are to hear of Ali’s passing.”

Investors at both Drax and BP’s meetings voted in favour of all resolutions with no shareholder revolts.

Environmental protesters have been increasingly targeting the annual general meetings (AGMs) of companies associated with or accused of producing high emissions.

Ahead of the Drax AGM, Mr Packham said: “In a global biodiversity crisis, you cannot justify felling and transporting wood from some of the planet’s most precious natural resources.

“It’s a disgrace that Drax is receiving huge subsidies meant for genuine renewables, it is past time to stop funding Drax’s destruction.”

The company receives money funded by energy bill payers because the electricity produced from burning wood pellets is classified as renewable.

But critics say this can only create carbon-neutral energy if companies use sustainable wood in their boilers.

Investigations by the BBC and others alleged that Drax sources from environmentally important forests.

Elsewhere, the firm has faced claims that pollution from wood pellet plants has caused health issues among residents of nearby local communities in the US.

A protester being carried away by security
A protester being carried away by security after trying to disrupt BP’s AGM (Fossil Free London/PA)

Krystal Martin, a resident of Gloster, Mississippi – where Drax operates a pellet plant, travelled from the US to the UK for the meeting to confront Mr Gardiner.

Ahead of the meeting, she said: “We are tired of false promises and being ignored. People in my town are being harmed and we want the UK government to wake up and pay attention.

“If they give Drax more money, more people will be harmed. They must listen to us now before it’s too late.”

Drax has said it is confident its biomass is sustainable and disputed claims that its operations are having adverse impacts on communities.

On Tuesday, the company announced 250,000 (£200,000) dollars to create a fund for Gloster as part of ongoing community engagement efforts.

But Ms Martin said: “This is really an insult especially after the many years of physical, mental, emotional, and financial harm they have caused to the people in the community.”

In a statement, a Drax spokesperson said: “AGMs are the cornerstone of shareholder democracy.

“Unfortunately, some activists, who set out to disrupt the event and intimidate attending shareholders and Drax employees, were removed or prevented from attending the meeting. Safety and environmental compliance are our top priority.

“Drax is committed to ensuring the biomass we source delivers positive outcomes for the climate, for nature and for the communities in which we operate.”

Responding to the protests, a BP spokesperson said: “Our priority continues to be the safety and security of all attendees.”