Runway Occupation on Trial – final day of evidence
Scheduling note – the trial will conclude on Monday the 25th of January, in Willesden Magistrates Court, with closing statements heard in the morning and verdicts given in the afternoon. The trial will not be in session until then.
Wednesday, January 20th, 2016, London – Today in Willesden Magistrates Court, evidence was heard from John McDonnell MP, Professor Alice Bowes-Larkin, and the four remaining defendants.
John McDonnell’s evidence was not heard in full due to the Judge accepting the points he was addressing, and therefore ruling the statement irrelevant. Justice Wright said:
“I can say that I will find that each of the defendants genuinely felt exasperated that their very considerable efforts to draw the attention of those in authority to the very real threat that climate change poses have not been effective. I am therefore not going to allow Mr McDonnell to give live evidence.
“I would say to the defendants, in respect of what you wanted him to say, you've already won.”
Her ruling on John McDonnell’s evidence is available here –
And John McDonnell’s full statement is available here –
Statements from three local residents from the Heathrow area were read out, detailing the debilitating and life-threatening medical conditions they were suffering from as a consequence of living near to the airport.
Character references for the defendants were also read out in court, from a variety of public figures including High Court Judge Peter Jackson and a long list of barristers and solicitors.
In a surprise to the defence, the prosecutor accepted that the defendants’ primary motivation in occupying the runway was to stop the carbon emissions from the planes prevented from taking off. In response to defendant Richard Hawkins’ claim that stopping these emissions was the ‘primary function’ of the action, prosecutor Mr McGhee said: “I don’t think we disagree about that.”
Phil Ball, Plane Stupid spokesperson said:
“On Monday the judge will rule on our defence, which is that the defendants had no choice but to take the actions they did to stop carbon emissions. She refused to hear witnesses testify in person that unlawful air pollution shortens every Londoner’s life by two years and that it’s almost too late to stop climate chaos that could leave the planet uninhabitable.
“Our case rests on the political system having failed to deal with the threat of climate change. The zombie third runway threat came back to life even after a ‘no ifs, no buts’ unequivocal pledge by the prime minister, and the High Court ruling that third runway plans breached the Climate Change Act. But people power killed it before, and people power will kill it again.”
Alice Bowes-Larkin is one of the UK’s leading climate scientists, and a specialist in the climate impacts of aviation. Her evidence, which was read to the court, mentioned that Heathrow “is the airport with the highest CO2 contribution in the world in terms of combined international and domestic flights” and “this puts Heathrow expansion at odds with the UK Government’s commitment to avoiding a ‘well below’ 2’C target, unless a major programme of efficiency and biofuel development are delivered in tandem.”
Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate for the London mayoral elections, came to court to support the defendants, despite her evidence having been ruled as inadmissible by the judge. Her statement is available here –
George Monbiot’s statement was also ruled inadmissible, and is available here –
Writing on how the activists will be seen in the future, he said:
“They will be regarded not as outlaws and subversives, but as democratic heroes. Succeeding generations, struggling with the impacts that our government’s failures to take action on climate change bequeathed them, are likely to be amazed that they could have been seen in any other light.”
In all, of the ten defence witnesses, only four had their evidence allowed, and none were permitted to appear in court.
The runway occupation, under the banner of anti-aviation expansion group Plane Stupid and the first on a Heathrow runway, lasted six hours and delayed or cancelled dozens of flights. The activists, who are all pleading not guilty, are accused of aggravated trespass and trespassing airside without authority.
The defendants are Sheila Menon, 43, of Hackney, east London, Rebecca Holly Sanderson, 27, of Machynlleth, Powys; Richard Steven Hawkins, 32, and Kara Lauren Moses, 31, both of Heol y Doll, Machynlleth; Ella Gilbert, 23, of Finsbury Park, north London; Melanie Strickland, 32, of Waltham Forest, north-east London; Danielle Louise Paffard, 28, of Peckham, south-east London; Graham Edward James Thompson, 42, of Hackney, north-east London; Cameron Joseph Kaye, 23, Edward Thacker, 26, Alistair Craig Tamlit, 27, and Sam Sender, 23, all of West Drayton, west London; and Robert Anthony Basto, 67, of Reigate, Surrey.
Plane Stupid on 07745 207 765 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Previous coverage –
The defendants have all pleaded not guilty and argue that their action was necessary due to the airport's contribution to life-threatening climatic changes. Furthermore, Heathrow expansion is inhumane to the local residents and those at the sharp end of climate change, and hugely environmentally destructive. The fact that it’s still being considered at all is a testament to the superiority of corporate lobbying over democracy and scientific evidence. The defendants are represented by barristers instructed by Mike Schwarz of Bindmans, and Raj Chada of Hodge Jones and Allen. Defence witnesses (if not deemed inadmissible by the court) will include politicians, scientists, local residents and prominent authors.
Heathrow is a big issue
Heathrow’s third runway has been the biggest iconic battleground for both climate change activism and local resistance to imposed national infrastructure. The issue has become such a political hot potato it has been kicked down the road by every government for decades.
This was the first, much anticipated runway occupation at LHR
After years of scare stories from the press that climate activists were planning to occupy the runways at Heathrow, in July 2015 it finally happened. There was international coverage in 2007 of Climate Camp pitching up on Heathrow’s doorstep for a week, and ten years of continuous pressure from Plane Stupid, Greenpeace and other groups, who occupied various runways but never Heathrow. But last July, David Cameron’s grinding slow-motion U-turn on the issue drove thirteen activists to occupy and close the north runway at Heathrow at 4.00am on July 13th, 2015, for the first time.
Activists including a climate science graduate and many with no previous convictions, all risking three month prison terms
Some of the activists were new to aviation protests, some were more experienced activists, like 67y/o atmospheric physicist Rob, and 23y/o climate science graduate Ella. Some are residents of Sipson who have and continue to campaign against the third runway in a variety of ways, like 23y/o Cameron and 26y/o Eddy, some from London, like 32y/o Melanie who works for a health charity, and the first Plane Stupid activist to ever be arrested in 2005, 42y/o Graham, others from further afield, including three from Wales. Most of the activists have no previous convictions. They are all facing up to three months in prison.
Action was effective, disruptive and difficult to move
The occupation took the form of a sophisticated ‘lock-on’, with the legs of a tripod of scaffolding poles piercing a triangular cage of Heras fencing, with one or two activists locked to every corner, and everything connected to everything else, to make the whole structure as immovable as possible. It took the specialist police extraction squad over six hours to remove them from the runway, during which time many flights had to be cancelled.
Runway is ‘all or nothing’ issue
The reason Heathrow is such a unique, iconic battleground in national politics is that it has come to represent the big test of a government’s seriousness about climate change. Dirty energy infrastructure can be replaced with clean, local issues can be resolved by relocation, but aviation is always extremely dirty, with no clean tech version in production. Local residents oppose Heathrow and Gatwick, as well as other airports around the country which had expansion plans before the problems of aviation expansion became well known. And they are campaigning not for the new runway to be somewhere else, but for there to be no new runways. The third runway is all-or-nothing, there is no room for compromise.
HTW’s emissions are illegal, 3rd runway would be more so
The environmental progress made globally, in Europe, and in the UK prior to 2010, has left a legislative trail. Heathrow’s air quality is the worst outside central London, with NOx and other pollutants well above the legal maxima (and London breached its EU air pollution limits for the whole year in just eight days). And the 2008 Climate Change Act includes legally binding emissions targets which ‘business as usual’ expansion of aviation would wreck. Heathrow’s current operations are illegally polluting, and a new runway is not going to improve things.
Broad opposition led to runway cancellation, and will again
The intensity of the opposition to Heathrow, which encompasses MPs, cabinet ministers and all the London mayoral candidates from all parties, as well as the current London Mayor, the local councils, residents’ groups, green NGOs and direct activists like Plane Stupid, finally stopped what had only a few years earlier been seen as an entirely inevitable development in 2010. David Cameron, between hugging huskies and declaring his government the greenest ever, made the now infamous election pledge ‘no ifs, no buts, no third runway’, and many west Londoners voted for that pledge. That huge coalition of opposition is ready to come back together to oppose a new runway in the courts, at the ballot box, and on the ground.
Runway pledge Cameron’s last shred of integrity, tories’ last shred of greenery
Now his supposed opposition to the third runway is the last flaky patch of greenwash still adhering to the tory brand. As foreign leaders and UN officials voice their confusion at Cameron’s government trying to shut down the clean tech sector and prop up the industries of the last century, as Britain sweeps up the debris from the climate impacts already hitting us, and as the entire world from the US to China, agrees to a more urgent climate stabilisation programme, Heathrow is the last memory of Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ programme for his party.
System doesn’t work, so we need direct action
The government continues to promise to deal with climate change, most recently at the COP in Paris and in wellies in Cumbria, whilst continuing to make it worse and hope no-one puts two and two together. The thirteen activists, all facing possible prison sentences, have watched the continuous parade of lies and broken promises from Heathrow and successive governments, and realised that no amount of scientific evidence will be enough to make them stay within the law or safe emission limits, and citizens need to stand up against the lobbying power of major industries before it’s too late. When the Prime Minister is set to break a ‘no ifs, no buts’ pre-election and manifesto pledge, civil disobedience is needed to uphold democracy. The runway occupation is what democracy looks like.