Tunnel Trio fined £305 each
By Paula Bayer, supporter
I've got to admit I was dreading today, with more Plane Stupid activists up for sentencing by the same district judge who promised prison to the runway blockaders. It's a relief that the 'tunnel trio' were charged with a fine-only offence and got off today with just an order to pay £305 each. Then we went to the pub and relaxed. It was definitely a better result than seeing activists sentenced to an "almost inevitable" trip to Wormwood Scrubs and Holloway!
The 3 Plane Stupid activists had blockaded the main road entrance to Heathrow on Thursday 26 November 2015 for - the Court heard - 4 hours and 29 minutes. The maximum sentence for infringing a Heathrow airport byelaw that prohibits blocking the road is a fine of £2500. They were each fined £200 (a third reduction on £300 for a guilty plea), plus £85 prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge. The judge remarked that the Prosecution's low application for costs was more "generous" to the defendants than it could have been. The judge explained that she gave below the maximum fine as she had to take into account their income and ability to pay. Only one of the three activists had a previous conviction.
In a short court session lasting under an hour, in one of her few remarks the judge told the tunnel blockaders that their action was not effective because the runway occupation had already done the job successfully. Two months ago, she had asked at least three of the runway blockaders why they had chosen an ineffective runway occupation when more emissions are caused by other modes of transport and she felt it would have been more effective to block a road - specifically, she told them, the M25. It seems she just can't decide which Plane Stupid blockade she loves best - blockading a tunnel or a runway! Well, have both until the government lives up to its climate promises and duty of care.
The day began with a laid back and fun gathering outside Uxbridge Magistrates Court. The cops weren't there, but did later turn up to be given some buttercups by a local supporter. They put them in the office. The trio read a brilliant statement outside court. After a loud cheer, they went in.
There were 28 seats in the public gallery but we had been told that only 13 of us were allowed in. Along with one member of the public who wasn't a supporter watching, there were 14 empty seats despite there being about 20 supporters still outside. One of us mentioned this to the court staff, asking for more of us to be let in, but we were told, "The court sets the number of seats. It's been arranged beforehand. It's not our decision." One then added, "We've got to keep this under control." I wonder if they're worried there'll be a repeat of the last trial's terrible cheering of the activists, but in reality it wasn't really a problem as most of the other supporters were happy being outside in the sun.
We showed our switched off phones to police as we entered the gallery, this being on the orders of the judge. Bizarrely, the judge's first comment as she entered the court at 10.55 was that she had received "intelligence that some of you were intending to record the proceedings. I'm sure you've all turned your phones off and are aware that any electronic recording would be an offence."
Well the judge may (or may not) find court sessions fun to relive again and again, but I can promise you that we're sticking to Breaking Bad or David Attenborough if we want to watch an old recording. Even Channel 5 would be more fun to watch than a recording of court.
The defendants gave guilty pleas. The defence barrister then read a statement from the defendants:
"On the day that Parliament was debating new runways at Heathrow and a week ahead of the UN Paris climate summit, we wanted to take action which could not be as easily ignored as many campaigns have been in the past.
We believe that those working in defence of local communities, climate refugees and the environment must speak up for those who do not have a platform for their voices.
For most of us, all we will gain from new runways is dirtier air, more noise and more floods due to climate chaos. There are more than enough runways for people who take one holiday a year; demand for airport expansion only comes from a minority of frequent leisure flyers. This 15% of British people take 70% of our flights, often to second homes abroad and they have a high income.
While the huge business entity that is Heathrow spends tens of millions advertising its plans for expansion, where are the voices of the locals whose lives will be entirely uprooted or the climate refugees who are forced to migrate as global warming increases drought? This is an issue of class: a familiar story of a rich and powerful elite trampling over the livelihoods of those lacking power.
Plans for new runways at Heathrow have been found "untenable in law and common sense" in a 2010 High Court judicial review because they contradict the Climate Change Act 2008.
Our sole intention was to draw media attention to the issue."
The judge retired to examine the means forms and returned at 11.15.
On passing sentence, she remarked:
"I acknowledge that each of you was protesting about an issue that you care about passionately, on the day Parliament was debating that issue."
Noting the defendant's submission that the purpose of their action was media attention, she continued with that remark - easily the most absurd today - praising the effectiveness of the runway blockaders she had planned to imprison:
"However, there had been another protest earlier that year that had already drawn significant media attention to the issue. It was difficult to see what your action achieved over and above that already achieved."
She settled on a pronounced sarcastic tone for the last word of her remark: "your character witnesses speak of your compassion and kindness."
"Your action showed a spectacular lack of consideration. Those flying may not have just been a rich caucus of people who travel frequently."
And it was all over by 10.20.
Media coverage of today's trial has given very little space to the issue of climate change, so I will here. It is why we are forced to take disruptive action. It is science.
Most of us will have seen the harrowing images of Syrian refugees such as the toddler Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey last year. There have been many of these tragedies. Over 4 million Syrians have become refugees.
We know that climate change means that more families become refugees. Although climate change is only one factor among many, these could be the individual stories of some of an estimated 75 million people forced to leave their homes by 2035 due to climate change, which brings increased floods, drought and extreme weather.
We know that, according to peer-reviewed research, climate change was a factor that helped spark the Syrian civil war, among other reasons. Public figures such as Prince Charles and Barack Obama have spoken about the link, with the US president saying: "It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war." In fact, his entire speech to the military about climate change is well worth reading.
Even a mere 2C rise in global temperatures - now considered at the low end of realistic expectations - would eventually force the migration of 20% of the world’s population from cities flooded by sea level rise, such as New York, London and Cairo. Again, this is peer-reviewed research.
If business as usual continues, numbers of climate refugees will snowball. If we burn all available fossil fuels, by 2300 most currently inhabited land may be so hot that humans would die from heat exhaustion within 6 hours. This too is peer-reviewed research.
There is no planet B. We must welcome refugees because no matter where borders lie, no human is illegal. Those of us who are able to act to prevent runaway climate chaos should know that we are responsible. We are complicit in the actions of our governments if we sit by.
For many of us, it is difficult to erase the photograph of Alan Kurdi from our minds. Let it remind us of the human cost of doing nothing when we could have done something.