Heathrow 13 greeted with cheers outside magistrates court
CHEERING erupted in court as 13 Plane Stupid Heathrow activists who blocked a runway as part of a protest last year were spared jail.
The seven men and six women, who became known as the ‘Heathrow 13’, were sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment but Willesden Magistrates’ Court decided it would be suspended for a year, plus community service.
Members of the protest group cut a hole in a Heathrow Airport fence and chained themselves to railings on the north runway on July 13 last year.
It is said that 25 scheduled flights were cancelled as a result of their actions, but defendants pleaded not guilty on August 19 2015.
The activists were found to be guilty in January and had been warned to expect jail.
Instead they will carry out 120 hours of community service, except Robert Bristoe, Danielle Paffard and Graham Thompson who will do 180 hours.
The defendants have also been banned from going within 500m of Heathrow terminal buildings and 5m of the perimeter fence.
Human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, was present on behalf of defendants Rebecca Sanderson, Richard Hawkins, Sheila Menon and Edward Thacker, all of previous good character and no previous convictions.
She told court: “This was direct action. A peaceful, political protest, exercising civil disobedience of conscious grounds.
“This case is not one which passes the custody threshold.”
Asking for conditional discharges, Ms Brimelow said the last time a custodial sentence was given for aggravated trespass in the UK was in 1932, when there was a mass trespass of the Moors in Lancashire.
She added: “They genuinely believed they were acting in the public interest. They are committed to reducing carbon emissions.”
Michael Turner QC spoke for Bristoe, Cameron Kaye, Sam Sender and Alistair Tamlit.
He asked District Judge Deborah Wright for suspended sentences, coupled with community orders.
He said: “A prison sentence would not be a deterrent but would be the opposite, adding fuel to the fire and publicity.”
Mr Bristoe has two previous convictions relating to fracking protests, including being made to pay a £250 fine for aggravated trespass at the Blackpool Tower.
Ella Gilbert was of good character apart from one caution, while Paffard had two previous aggravated trespass convictions and Thompson four.
Most of the Heathrow 13 had glowing character references detailing their commitments to their causes, including praise from Green Party leader Natalie Bennett for lawyer and defendant Melanie Strickland.
District Judge Wright considered the sentences on an individual basis, saying she had ‘a lot to consider’.
A rally was held outside with Hayes & Harlington MP John McDonnell and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas showing their support for the activists.
n PASSIONATE: Plane Stupid Heathrow protesters emerge victorious from Willesden Magistrates’ Court after they received suspended sentences