‘Selfish’ airport protesters spared prison sentences
Judge ‘showed leniency’ on those taking part in illegal protest
A PRO-airport expansion lobby group has branded the Plane Stupid protestors ‘selfish’ after the 13 were spared jail.
Rob Gray, director of Back Heathrow, blasted the group for their ‘illegal protest’ in occupying Heathrow’s northern runway last summer and causing widespread disruption for those using the airport.
He said: “Plane Stupid do not represent the majority of residents who value Heathrow as a major employer and force for good in the local area.
“Nor do they represent the millions of people who simply want the freedom to use the airport to catch a flight without being prevented doing so by the undemocratic and self-indulgent actions of others.
“The actions of the individuals involved with this demonstration were publicity-seeking and illegal. The judge showed leniency today, but the selfish actions of a tiny minority will find little support in communities surrounding Heathrow.”
The protesters walked free from Willesden Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday February 24 to the sound of cheers and support from crowds who had eagerly awaited the outcome all day.
The seven men and six women were each sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for a year, plus community service.
Sheila Menon, praised in character references as an ‘honest and principled individual with strong ethical beliefs and strong compassion for addressed the outside court.
She said: “Although we got six-week sentences suspended for one year, for me climate change is a others’, crowds death sentence. You can build new runways or you can stop climate chaos, but you can’t do both.
“We had the means to act and so we did. It is because of people power like this, that we don’t have a third runway now and people power will stop it again.”
Edward Thacker moved to Sipson to oppose the construction of a third runway at Heathrow and will continue with his community work in the villages now he is confirmed free.
He told the Gazette: “We are delighted in that we weren’t given immediate custody as threatened.
“I’ll be going back to Sipson to continue building and supporting the community there by preventing a third runway and fighting for our future.”
Graham Thompson, a Greenpeace press officer and one of the activists sentenced to 180 hours community service, said: “The court said we should prepare for immediate custodial sentences, the court said they were almost inevitable, but all the support we’ve received seems to have changed their minds.
“Now we’re asking all those who supported us to support stopping new runways. David Cameron has changed his mind before on this – it shouldn’t be too difficult to change it again.”
The campaigners, who had packed suitcases ready for prison, were visibly relieved to be spared immediate custody.
Raj Chada, partner and criminal defence lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen, who defended Melanie Strickland, Sam Sender, Sheila Menon and Robert Basto, said: “My clients stand by their actions and regard air pollution from Heathrow as a clear and present danger to human health.
“Having learned of scientific evidence that a third of aviationattributable early deaths occur in Greater London each year and, in particular, 31 people die early each year within a 20-mile radius of Heathrow Airport due to aircraft emissions, my clients felt compelled to act.
“Despite European breaching
Union regulations aimed at reducing aviation emissions, no action has been taken against Heathrow.
“Further, we produced expert evidence at trial to show that 48 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK come from Heathrow and that aircraft emissions had a more serious effect on the environment than other sectors.
“Melanie, Sam, Sheila and Robert, along with their fellow protesters were protesting a matter of life and death.
“The impact of air pollution is a ticking time bomb.”
Liz Hutchins, from Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s right that these activists have not been imprisoned for protesting to protect the planet, but a suspended sentence is still deeply unjust.
“Peaceful protest is an important part of any democratic society.”
n SUPPORT: (Above and right) Anti-third runway supporters wait outside Willesden Magistrates’ Court