Ten months on a diesel generator (and counting)
Another case of corrupt courts supporting gangsters who punish the innocent
Back in February I told the story of Andrew Stephenson in Hartlepool, who is a friend of mine. He has been subjected to gangsterism by the electricity utility industry, as well as experiencing the blockading of justice by the courts. This story has significance way beyond his individual case, since it represents both administrative rules cruelly run amok, as well as the artificial constraint on access to justice for the public.
It is a genuine scandal, and forms part of a much bigger scandal of how power companies treat us like serfs and ignore the law with impunity. The bottom line is that we need a public inquiry into the operation of the courts with respect to utility companies. The really fun part of the scandal is how we have discovered Northern Power Grid (NPG) broke their own safety rules in order to unlawfully punish Mr Stephenson for standing up for himself, leaving his home in a dangerous state.
I was in court with him last week, and I plan to write a separate piece on the rigged experience in this corrupt system. He has now spent 10 months on an emergency diesel generator power, effectively under a form of home imprisonment, simply because he lawfully attempted to change energy billing company in a way that one of the “big boys” did not approve of. His most basic rights of participation of society are being eroded, as a form of feudal forfeit without trial or due process.
There are two stories here. The electricity story is the “base” one, and while important, the access to justice story is the biggie that affects everyone. To recap the underlying controversy, Mr Stephenson switched from one of the major billing companies (Octopus) to direct billing via a micro supplier (who seeks confidentiality to avoid reprisals), as per the regulations. His existing billing company wished to keep billing him, despite no contract. A deadlock letter was issued on 25th July 2022, with the only resolution being an adjudication by the ombudsman.
Octopus then sent their heavies around to do to a “meter check”, and were sent away as there was no contract. Mr Stephenson then filed a formal complaint that they were harassing him; he had switched to a new contract, and the commercial dispute could only be resolved by the ombudsman. In October of 2022 there came two men from Octopus’s sub-contractor Haste, plus a locksmith.
They said they had a warrant of entry, and he had been notified, but all letters have been returned to sender as there was no contract. There was an argument, and the police were called, as Mr Stephenson’s was experiencing trespass and the police’s role is to prevent a breach of the peace. Various friends came around as witnesses, and the farmer who owns the private road the contractors were parked on told them to leave as well. They eventually disappeared, and the police came around that evening.
It turned out that Haste had lied to the police, stating Mr Stephenson had removed his electric and gas meters illegally (he had not), which had left the house in considerable danger of explosion (which is impossible), and was aggressive (he was not). Luckily, Mr Stephenson had made a video of the encounter, as well as having witnesses. Because Haste had also claimed he had a gas supply, which is untrue, this provides credible evidence of impropriety in the tactics they employ to gain the attention of the police. Mr Stephenson does however have a range fuelled by coke, which provides the central heating and domestic hot water. (The police got a good laugh when he reassured them it wasn’t the “white kind”.)
Although Mr Stephenson complained to the police that he was being subjected to criminal harassment, they said they could not deal with it. This is a recurring pattern, where police fail to uphold their oath, and treat fellow members of officialdom as being above the law, in a system of two-tiered justice. They did not file an incident report, which they should have done, as there was a valid complaint against Haste and its employees. Wasting police time and lying to police are crimes, but if you are part of the establishment it is taken as business as usual.
On 10th February 2023, the same person from Haste came around on behalf of Octopus, claiming to be in attendance for a “safety check”. Once more, Mr Stephenson said there was no contract, and that all their notices outside of a contract had been returned as “abandoned paper” (a technical legal term). The police were then called again, who instead of doing their job to prevent a breach of the peace, aided these agents to break the law. NPG also arrived as part of the vendetta squad.
Mr Stephenson was given the option of installing a new emergency meter if (under duress) he accepted to subjugate himself to Octopus in a supply contract. He was informed that only Octopus could provide and install one immediately; alternative electricity billing companies would take around 14 days. Haste provided the telephone number for Octopus, however when Mr Stephenson telephoned them on loudspeaker, for all present to hear, Octopus stated “We cannot deal with you, you can only go to the ombudsman”.
This is the critical point: NONE of these entities had any power to act whatsoever, and any warrant (if it even exists) was invalid since it would have failed to disclose the deadlock situation with the ombudsman — that being the ONLY lawful route forward. The underlying collision of interests is always the same, where front line officials follow the “law of rules” — we did as we were told by the bosses — which is the opposite of the “rule of law” — doing what is right. In this instance, a lack of standing invalidates EVERYTHING they do.
This is where the story gets really good. Haste had cut off the house by removing the meter, leaving it in the dark. Then NPG’s management authorised the supply and installation of a new emergency meter. The meter was delivered to the site after about 40 minutes, and handed to the their engineers. However, before they could install it, management for some reason overruled the installation of the new emergency meter, even when presented evidence Mr Stephenson had a valid supply arrangement with another alternative supplier. Instead, the main feed cable into Mr Stephenson’s house was cut, INCLUDING THE EARTH CONNECTION.
Somehow this was all justified as “industry convention”, despite being a breach of the law and safety rules. Mr Stephenson had said that he hoped hewould be able to use an emergency backup generator he has for his smallholding. The generator was hooked up, to keep the freezers and lights on, but kept tripping out because it was not earthed correctly. When Mr Stephenson went to get a shower, he got zapped with electric shocks. So not only did NPG unlawfully hack up the cable to punish Mr Stephenson (and hope to collect high reconnection fees), they negligently left his home in a dangerous state.
It was only after several hours investigative work by an electrician that it came to light that NPG, when severing Mr Stephenson’s own mains cable, had also severed the earth. No one could conceive in advance of the possibility that they could have done something so dangerous. The electrician rectified the situation. This court case will be unusual, as it will be a rare opportunity to mention electric shocks to a man’s prized organ, and note that while other people may pay good money for such stimulation, this was not welcome to Mr Stephenson on a daily basis!
Now we can switch to the access to justice story. On 24th February 2023, there was a court hearing where Mr Stephenson sought an injunction to force Northern Power Grid to reconnect his home to the grid. The judge ignored the core fact, which was the contract dispute with Octopus was with the ombudsman, which meant none of these entities (Octopus, Haste, or Northern Power Grid) had any authority or standing to act in this way. Part way through the hearing it became clear the judge had different papers to the ones Mr Stephenson had submitted.
Mr Stephenson had asked to see the warrant, but it was never produced. The opposition were allowed to file papers after the deadline, including during the hearing. They did not dare to submit the warrant in advance as it was invalid, and up to this day it has never been shared with Mr Stephenson. The judge asked for the warrant to be emailed in to the hearing, which it was a few minutes later, but the judge did not ask Mr Stephenson to email his missing bundle of documents in.
The judge ruled that somehow Mr Stephenson could be compensated later with money, even though it was clear he could easily run out of resources to pursue further legal action, and be left permanently in the literal dark. There is no equity or equality of arms: the other side’s lawyers will never have to worry about living and working without power. These are the exact kinds of punishments without crime or conviction that a constitution is meant to protect us from.
Worst of all, Mr Stephenson was ordered to pay £12,000 of costs to them. Remember, all he has done is to switch supplier, and follow the rules to refer his case to the ombudsman when the old supplier wants to keep billing him out-of-contract. He has done nothing wrong, paid every legitimate invoice, and broken no law. Mr Stephenson’s only option was to appeal this outrageous costs ruling, on the basis no reasonable judge could have behaved and ruled this way. That is where it gets really spicy.
He ordered a transcript of the hearing, for it to be sent to the judge to verify the accuracy of the judgement text. When he submitted the approved text to the appeal court, there was no email auto-acknowledgement. He kept writing to the court, to check it was received, as the appeal judge was stating his case would be struck out if the approved transcript did not arrive.
Four times he put in the transcript, copied to other people, and four times it was ignored. Northern Power Grid applied for a strike-out, on the technical basis that Mr Stephenson had not complied with the court order of the hearing 24th February 2023 for him to pay their extortionate costs, even though he had appealed that hearing and judgement, asking for the costs to be stayed pending the outcome. The strikeout was denied, the judge ruled fairly in that hearing reflecting the fact that an appeal was in progress. Octopus had also applied for a strikeout, but had come in late with their application.
The judge would not hear it because they had missed the deadline, so the matter was re-listed for another hearing. Then there was a similar farrago with the paperwork. When the court order of 24th February 2023 had ruled that Mr Stephenson could join in Octopus and Haste to the claim, he had to do so by 17th March 2023. The amended claim papers were four sets of documents (court, Northern Power Grid, Haste), and were served in unsealed form to the court, and by email to Octopus, who said they don’t accept service by email.
But there is case law and a Civil Procedure Rules policy that says they must file an acknowledgement of service. This is under CPR part 11, wherein a defendant ought to file an Acknowledgement of Service, and then contest service of the claim, but the judge wouldn’t hear it. Although Mr Stephenson had supplied the amended claim and detailed particulars to the court on the last day, 17th March, this was because his limitations are considerable when running on a generator, with voltage drops etc. The court then failed to process them for service — as ‘sealed’ versions — on the three defendants.
Indeed, the court failed to issue the papers for months, during which time Mr Stephenson remained tied to home to constantly fuel and maintain his generator. If he wanted to run his laser printer, he had to turn his freezer off; this has been a major change in lifestyle! The court did not specify the papers had to be sealed, and said they would deal with it. The law concerns itself with substance over form, and litigants in person are meant to be given procedural help and leeway. The court offered to make an ex gratia payment to Mr Stephenson for its negligence in issuing the papers.
Sometimes the court would auto-acknowledge emails from Mr Stephenson, then it would cease, he would complain, and they would go back on for a while. There was no independent investigation as to why he was being denied access to justice. The court desk was unstaffed in opening hours, and the phone line unanswered. Security would exclude Mr Stephenson from the building claiming it was closed at 2pm, when the order said he had until 4pm to submit documents. The dropbox for papers was unable to take his sheaf — you need a real person to deal with it.
So then Octopus make a claim in July that the case should be struck out, as the papers had not been filed on time, despite this being solely the result of the court’s administrative failure. Eventually Mr Stephenson has had to write to the appeal judge personally to ask for due process, and demand an independent investigation into why the courts are mishandling his case in such an egregious way.
So in summary, Mr Stephenson has been subjected to all the following injustices:
The false claim by Octopus to have a contract when he has ended it and moved supplier.
Harassment by Octopus after the matter has been sent to the ombudsman.
Perjury by Octopus and Haste in applying for a warrant by failing to mention the deadlock or ombudsman.
Trespass into his home, and criminal damage to a supply cable that he himself owns.
Failure of the police to uphold their oath, and acting outside of their role to aid utility companies to raid his home unlawfully.
Negligence by Northern Power Grid that resulted in a dangerous safety situation that could have caused bodily harm.
No valid warrant ever being presented, so there is no ability to validate the law was followed or seek remedy if not.
Lack of due process in the initial injunction case around the submission of documents to the judge, and unequal treatment of the parties with naked bias.
Ignoring the law and the false assertion by the judge, who stands to lose nothing by his lack of mercy, by claiming money can compensate for what is now ten months of virtual “energy imprisonment”.
Punishment by the injunction judge by assigning costs to Mr Stephenson, while aiding Northern Power Grid to break the law and put Mr Stephenson at risk of harm under a false pretext of safety, all while their lawyers profit.
Denial of justice by repeated failure of the court to process the transcript in a manner that suggests possible criminal collusion between the court and utility companies.
Delay of justice by the court failing to properly handle documents, meet basic service levels, and failing to list his appeal case in a timely manner.
Denial of a basic human right to join to participate in society on an equal basis.
What makes this case extra special is that on 6th February 2023, four days before the cable cutting incident, Supreme Court judge Lord Edis had ordered an immediate cessation of warrants of entry being used to fit prepay meters. This came after a massive outcry due to abuse of process. (The invalid one for Mr Stephenson was “issued” 20th Jan and technically extant, but they would be more than aware it was in opposition to case law when enforced.)
Lord Edis cannot possibly have meant a massive escalation into cutting cables, terminating the mains connection, severing the safety system, electrocuting the customer, and risking corporate manslaughter charges. Nor is it credible that he would have permitted any action whilst the account was in deadlock, as he probably never considered that could ever happen. Almost all warrants would be for situations where people refused to pay (or simply could not afford to), but not in dispute deadlock. This may put Mr Stephenson’s experience of utility mobsters into a category of its own.
If there is any justice in this world, Mr Stephenson will be first in line for any new energy technology that allows him to be re-powered up, and operate independently of these corrupt utility companies and the courts that are colluding with their gangsterism as accomplices. While bad behaviour by greedy and unscrupulous corporations has become a tragic norm, when it is supported by the courts it becomes a threat to the liberty and safety of everyone. This case has significance far beyond the confines of Hartlepool.
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