#Heathrow13 Trial: Day 1

Today saw the beginning of the #Heathrow13 trial of the thirteen defendants who, on the 13th July 2015, occupied the North runway at Heathrow Airport. In doing so they cancelled 25 flights and saved an estimated 250 tonnes of CO2. In doing so, they argue that they have saved lives in the face of climate chaos. All thirteen are pleading not guilty, as this action was reasonable and justified in the context of climate change.  Climate defence is not an offence!

Solidarity Demo

The day got off to an amazing start. Around 100 supporters came to show solidarity in a demo called for by the national campaign network, Reclaim the Power. The demo began with a statement from the #Heathrow13, in which they explained why their actions were justified. They argued that the effects of climate change due to emissions from aviation are happening now and are being felt locally and globally, predominantly by those in the Global South who have least to do with causing climate change. They also stated that the failed "no ifs, no buts" promise of David Cameron further jeopardises our future. A video of the full statement can be seen here.

In addition to this there was singing from a radical choir, massive inflatable #redlines cobblestones and solidarity banners with international struggles against aviation, such as la Zad in France.

The #Heathrow13, then, proudly entered the court to chants of “No ifs, No Buts, No new runways!”, reminding everybody of David Cameron's previous election promise.

The Day's Proceedings

Inside the court, the day began with a discussion about the expert witness, Alice Bows-Larkin, who is a climate change and aviation expert. Unfortunately, it was decided that she would not be allowed to give evidence in the court. On the plus side, however, this was because Judge Wright declared that the fact that aviation fuel is linked to climate change is indisputable, which is a huge statement for a Judge to make.


Next, the Prosecution put forward their case. This was fairly straightforward, mainly confirming the facts that the 13 activists were: on the runway, created a structure of mesh fencing and a tripod, and that people locked-on to this structure in a variety of different ways in order to prevent as many flights as possible from taking off. A Police video was played in court showing this. Chuckles may have been heard when a polar bear on top of the tripod came into shot. None of these facts are contested by the activists.

The Prosecution then called 2 witnesses: Mr Oxby - Head of Business Resilience, and Mr Thomas - Flow Manager. They mainly gave evidence about the supposed level of disruption caused to the airport. On cross examination, however, it was made clear that despite causing 25 flights to be cancelled, the impact on passengers could not be separated from the effects of weather, nor was it likely that the number of passengers supposedly affected was accurate given that most flights cancelled were short haul and therefore it is likely that passengers could be moved onto later flights.

Mr Oxby claimed that Heathrow airport contributes around £7bn to the UK economy. He was unable to answer, however, if this took into account the negative impacts of climate change, for example, the £5bn cost of the recent floods in the North of England, which scientists from Oxford university say has a 40% probability to have been caused by climate change. Nor could he say if it took into account the cost of
3,000 hospital admissions every year due to London air pollution.

Defendants' Evidence

In the second half of the day, the first two defendants gave their evidence in court. This first began with Ms Ella Gilbert who, having two climate change related degrees, brought the science of climate change into the courtroom – quite literally as the lawyers presented a huge ring-bound folder of peer-reviewed science, which Ms. Gilbert said was only a selection of the most seminal papers which have informed her decision to take part in this action against climate change.

She stated that papers such as the IPCC's 2015 report laid out the science clearly; that the evidence was 'unequivocal' that climate change is 'human induced' and that the recent warming is 'unprecedented'. Thus, the need for radical action.

She further highlighted the impacts of climate change on sea level, the spread of disease, agriculture, and extreme weather – all of which are going to hit the Global South hardest.

She also added that that following the 2008 Climate Change Act it has been recommended that a cap on aviation emissions be set at 2005 levels. However, aviation is the fastest growing source of CO2 in the UK, and we are set to miss the 2050 targets at this rate.

The second defendant to take the stand was Mr Sender, who grew up under the flight path and has lived in the Heathrow villages for around three years. This meant that he has personal first hand knowledge of the impacts of Heathrow on local health, such as the 'Heathrow Cough', the increased levels of asthma and the fact that every Londoner has their life expectancy cut short by two years due to air pollution.

Judge Wright pressed both defendants on why they chose to stop emissions from aviation when other transport such as cars cause a larger amount of CO2 in the UK. It was mentioned, however, that in the area surrounding Heathrow, the majority of traffic is related to the airport and therefore cannot be separated. (Also, perhaps we should also fight roads and cars too – like the Combe Haven Defenders do!).

Both defendants came across as knowledgeable, passionate and reasonable individuals. So much so that Judge Wright repeatedly stated that she had no doubt about the genuine beliefs of the activists in taking this action.

The trial continues tomorrow, in Willesden Magistrates Court, with around seven more defendants giving evidence.