Camille's blog

The Heathrow 13 are free!


Yesterday in a shock turnaround, the judge in the trial of the Heathrow 13 gave a suspended prison sentence to all the defendants. The judge had previously warned them all to expect an immediate custodial sentence and indeed a probation officer recommended the maximum fine and maximum prison time (three months) for one of the defendants. The threat of prison has lead to thousands of well wishers giving their support to the 13 and has given the campaign to stop airport expansion a huge boost. Yesterday morning #Heathrow13 was trending number 1 on UK Twitter whilst over two hundred people gathered outside the court, crammed onto the pavement. 

Before the sentencing the defence presented mitigating reasons why a lesser penalty should be given, including many moving and inspiring character references. "I can't fail to be impressed by the character references." the judge had previously said and the defence added that, "They as people, can't fail to impress." Amongst them, were references from Shadow Chancellor John McDonald and Green Party Leader Natalie Bennet. The defendants were described variously as caring, talented, highly committed, passionate, selfless, with integrity and honesty, and even as 'a shining light'. The many skills and achievements recounted left those in court with the lasting impression of an incredible collection of people. Other mitigating reasons were presented such as family circumstances and the historic and valuable tradition of civil disobedience in the democracy of our country. The defence recounted that the last time that protesters were imprisoned for a similar trespass was in 1932 at Kinder Scot and they all later received an apology.
After nearly a three hour wait, the sentencing was delivered at exactly 3:50, symbolic of the climate network that one of the defendants works for. Sitting in the dock the defendants had been nervously joking and laughing together with excited smiles, some of them wearing Plane Stupid t-shirts with an airplane motif made to look like prison shirts. Because of the great expectations around the trial the judge took the unusual step of announcing first the sentencing and second her reasoning. As well as a 6 week suspended prison sentence the 13 are to pay costs each of either £500 or £1000 depending upon means. They will also work 120-180 hours of community service. One voice in the public gallery was heard to quip "Well they do that already!" The prison time is suspended upon the condition that the defendants do not to commit any crimes within the next two years and that they do not go within 5 meters of the perimeter of Heathrow airport. 
The relief was clearly deeply felt by the parents, friends and families of the 13 as they left court. Despite warnings from court officials to leave quietly the 13 emerged to raucous cheering from the crowd. In a speech given outside, one of the defendants mothers spoke of her pride at the actions of her son and the inspiration she took from all of them. One of the defendants then urged those gathered to take direct action and help stop airport expansion. The 13 first celebrated their freedom with around 50 family and well wishers at a nearby pub, cheering the news reports as they appeared on the pub television. 
The campaign continues! No ifs no buts, no new runways!