POWER giant RWE npower was last night accused of trying to stifle local protesters in what was shaping up to be a major battle over civil liberties.

Lawyers, politicians and campaigners who live in Abingdon and around the Radley Lakes site condemned a far-reaching injunction against protesters' right to demonstrate. The injunction prevents demonstrating against the electricity company, which yesterday began chopping down trees on an island in Thrupp Lake and clearing vegetation. The High Court injunction means protesters are not permitted to remain on, trespass, or conduct any demonstrations or protests inside a boundary running along the northern edge of Thrupp lake and around adjacent npower owned land. Protesters are permitted on the public highway next to the lake, but not on a private access road leading to the site.

The company said it was aimed at six people who, it says, have been intimidating and harassing its staff.

However, the injunction was yesterday being handed out to people at the site by lawyers flanked by security guards. This included members of the media.

Save Radley Lakes, a group of local protesters which says it is opposed to illegal protest, has been ordered to forward the injunction to its 500 members via its website.

Legal experts say this means they would also be bound under its terms.

Members of the group said the injunction was being used to thwart legal protest.

Alison Pruitt, 59, Abingdon, said: "We are all law-abiding, ordinary people.

"It's very intimidating and quite scary.

"We all feel our civil liberties have been infringed by being photographed and filmed by men in balaclavas."

Fellow Save Radley Lakes protester Jo Cartmell added: "Abingdon has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, yet this is how we are treated and rewarded."

Oxford University Professor of Jurisprudence John Gardner said the use of blanket injunctions effectively incorporating everyone was a worrying development.

A similar type of injunction was implemented in the county last year, when an exclusion zone keeping out animal rights campaigners was created in Oxford.

Mr Gardner said such a use was very different to the original purpose of such an injunction - to prevent the publication of sensitive material in book serialisations across all newspapers.

He said: "Against protesters, the same argument does not apply. There is no leakage of information so that once it's out, you can't stop it anymore.

"The conclusion one might reach as a lawyer is that this has happened without anyone thinking about it. These sort of injunctions have crept into the protest issue and I don't think that they should have done."

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris said he was disappointed npower had started work before a decision on whether or not to give the area town green status - meaning the area could not be altered - had been heard.

He said: "As someone who has visited the site myself, I remain to be satisfied that the terms of the injunction were warranted as local people must retain the right to protest peacefully at what they see as environmentally-damaging action.

"I suspect this injunction may be challenged as to its breadth, and rightly so."

Npower said the creation of a 'no protest zone', security guards and the filming of members of the public were measured responses to the threat staff at the site had received.

The company's spokesman, Leon Flaxman, said: "This is absolutely not bullying.

"Contractors are carrying out their lawful duties and they have a right to be protected.

"We have made allegations to the court of repeated incidents of trespass, photographing of workers' faces and statements that identifications will be published.

"Because of that, security guards have felt it necessary to keep a record of what's happening."