‘Self­ish’ air­port pro­test­ers spared prison sen­tences

Judge ‘showed le­niency’ on those tak­ing part in il­le­gal protest

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS -

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

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