trial

#Heathrow13 Trial Verdict - Press Release

Runway Occupation on Trial – Verdicts

Monday, January 20th, 2016, London – Today in Willesden Magistrates Court, the thirteen Plane Stupid activists who occupied Heathrow’s north runway for six hours on the 13th of July last year were all convicted of aggravated trespass and being airside without lawful authority. The Judge has asked them all to return in 3 weeks on the 24th February for sentencing and has advised all defendants to prepare for immediate custodial sentences. 

The thirteen defendants released the following statement, in response to their convictions:

“Today's judgement demonstrates that the legal system does not yet recognise that climate defence is not an offence. We took action because we saw that it was sorely needed. When the democratic, legislative and processes have failed, it takes the actions of ordinary people to change them.”

“We are very grateful for all the messages of support and solidarity we have received from all over the world, and are immensely proud of the action we took to combat emissions from aviation. Climate change and air pollution from Heathrow are killing people now, and the government's response is to spend millions making the problem bigger. As long as airport expansion is on the agenda, Plane Stupid will be here. We're in it for the long haul.“

Most of the defence’s witness evidence was not heard in court, and none of the witnesses were allowed to appear in court. John McDonnell was not heard in full due to the Judge having already accepted the points he was addressing, and therefore ruling the statement irrelevant.

Her ruling on John McDonnell’s evidence is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/judge-wrights-ruling-john-mcdonnells-witness-statement

And John McDonnell’s full statement is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/witness-statement-john-mcdonnell-mp

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.

Alice Bowes-Larkin, one of the UK’s leading climate scientists, and a specialist in the climate impacts of aviation, submitted a statement which was read to the court. It 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 –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/sian-berry-statement

George Monbiot’s statement was also ruled inadmissible, and is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/george-monbiot-statement

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.

ENDS

Contact

Plane Stupid on 07745 207 765 or press@planestupid.com 

www.planestupid.com

@planestupid

#heathrow13

#nonewrunways

-----

NOTES

Previous coverage:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/heathrow-third-runway-protesters-trial-freedom-fighters

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/12105559/Plane-Stupid-activists-accused-of-chaining-themselves-to-Heathrow-runway-hold-protest-outside-court.html

http://www.itv.com/news/london/2016-01-18/trial-begins-for-13-climate-activists-over-heathrow-runway-protest/ 

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/635836/Plane-Stupid-demonstration-Heathrow-runway-three 

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/17/john-mcdonnell-evidence-heathrow-climate-activists-trial 

BACKGROUND 

Defence summary

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.

Nic Ferriday Statement

I work as a volunteer at the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF). I have a Physics degree and worked as an engineer at British Telecom before I took early retirement. I have been interested and concerned in environmental issues for many years. I live in the London Borough of Ealing, in West London and have done for many years. I was previously involved locally in Friends of Earth and it was apparent to us that Heathrow Airport and any possible expansion was the most significant local environmental issue.

The Aviation Environment Federation describes on its website in the following terms:

“the principal UK NGO campaigning exclusively on the environmental impacts of aviation and promoting a sustainable future for the sector. We formed as a federation in 1975 at a time when the sector was beginning to grow rapidly and noise was becoming an issue around airfields and airports. As aviation is exempt from noise nuisance legislation our members sought action to influence the national policy level.

AEF continues to focus on policy change but our work now extends beyond national policies to influencing European and global policy makers. Aviation has environmental, social and economic impacts and so despite being an organisation that is small in size, our work covers issues ranging from local air quality to global climate change, and from local participation in an airport consultative committee to the overall national economic impact of a new runway.”

I took part in the Public Inquiry into Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport from 1995 onwards and gave evidence to that public enquiry.

Being a resident of Ealing, I am personally directly affected by Heathrow Airport. Most noticeably I am affected by noise. When there are easterly winds, planes take off directly overhead. I do not know if I am personally affected by air pollution, but would say I probably am simply based on the fact Heathrow is by far the biggest polluter in the area and we are downwind from Heathrow. I am unaware of any personal health problems attributable to air pollution. The biggest source of air pollution where I live is road traffic. 

My work at the AEF consists of being a Case Officer. If members of public or organisations came to us with an enquiry I would take up the issue and see if I could assist. In short, my work involves conducting research, advice and advocacy. I have been doing this for around 15 years now.

I do not have technical qualifications on air pollution monitoring or forecasting/simulation, but have a general understanding of the government policy and social and political issues surrounding air pollution. I have a scientific background and so am comfortable interpreting the various scientific research and publications within my area of expertise.

In terms of air pollution, my understanding of the aim of UK Government policy is to protect the population’s health in accordance with national, European and international obligations on air pollution. There is a recognition and acceptance that air pollution has a substantial negative impact on the population’s health and causes and contributes to ill health and premature death. However, based on my experience, we have had successive governments which have failed to take action on air pollution. Because of this failure to do so, the Government were taken to the Supreme Court by ClientEarth and lost, because of their failures to address air pollution and abide by their own commitments to abide by EU air pollution directives.

This approach towards the Government’s legal obligations in terms of air pollution seems to have permeated into the Airports Commission’s work, and the importance that Commission’s work has attributed towards air pollution.

The Airports Commission started its work about three years ago. The purpose of the Airports Commission was to look at how Britain could protect and enhance its Airport hub status. It rapidly morphed into looking at whether we need more capacity, and in particular in the south-east. Hub airports are where people change flights and service long distance flights. The majority of flights however are short–haul. The hub debate seems to come down to whether we ought to expand Heathrow to protect its status as a hub vis-à-vis, say, Dubai.

The Commission looked at demand and concluded fairly early the UK needed a new runway in the South East. They brushed aside arguments that we did not. They then looked at a long list of possible options for new runways. This then narrowed to a shortlist of three comprising of the Heathrow NW option (which has been recommended), an extended Northern runway at Heathrow and an extra runway at Gatwick Airport. They only looked at air pollution in very rudimentary terms. Levels of air pollution were lower at every other location, but nonetheless the shortlist of three included two options at Heathrow Airport. This fact alone indicates that air pollution was not a significant consideration when it came to selecting the most suitable option for a new runway, and indeed is reflective of the Government’s attitude generally towards air pollution and aviation policy.

In November 2014 the Airports Commission published the first major report by Jacobs Consultancy. I have doubts over the independence of the consultancy as they were being paid by the Commission. It was subsequently accepted the report had shortcomings and they did more detailed computer simulations on air pollution modelling before publishing a further report in May 2015.  A critique of both reports, together with context of the reports, is available on request. 

The Airports Commission’s concluding report in July 2015 seemed not to take into account the May 2015 air pollution study in anything more than a superficial way. This is unsurprising given the timing of the publications. This seemed to suggest they were going through the motions with this May 2015 study and had always intended to have Heathrow as the preferred option, whatever the later air pollution study said.

Regardless of the established links between aviation and climate change and air pollution, all the main political parties bar the Green Party think aviation has a strong ability to transform the economy, much in the same way that people used to think about motorways. Within the Conservative party there is something of a divide. Generally there is quite a lot of support for growth of aviation in terms of expanding capacity. There is however much more opposition to growth at particular places. Opposition to Heathrow Airport is perhaps the most prominent of these examples because of the levels of pollution and the number of people affected. Zac Goldsmith MP (for Richmond-upon-Thames) is prominent amongst these local opponents. It seems the support for the principle of expansion is there, but not for the local reality. The same is true in the Labour Party; there has been general support for the apparent economic benefits of airport expansion but fierce opposition from local opponents such as John McDonnell MP.

People outside of London have accused local residents of wanting to halt growth to the economy by prioritising their local concern. It’s true to say the issue is difficult. If people are driving, using airports and other industrial processes, it seems to me it is hard, but by no means impossible, to comply with the environmental legislation.

The biggest source of air pollution is road traffic where I live. You would have to constrain road traffic to reduce air pollution significantly. The problem at Heathrow is that when the airport is added, it makes things worse. Clearly if the airport is expanded, this will make things worse. There has been a suggestion of imposing a congestion charge around Heathrow to tackle this. This seems inconceivable politically. I cannot see the air pollution problem being solved any time soon. This new proposal to expand Heathrow will make it worse.

As far as the UK Government and the EU are concerned, air pollution limits are absolute. The limits do not allow breaches for economic growth or any other reason. The EU has said UK is in breach at a number of locations and UK is required to take action to reduce these levels to acceptable levels as soon as possible. The UK Government has now published a plan (which has been criticised by ClientEarth) to comply within a certain number of years.

When looking at the proposed mitigation to counter the effects of air pollution at an expanded Heathrow Airport in the Airports Commission, my initial reaction was that this is not much more than a series of good ideas. The mitigation was not actually recommended by the Airports Commission. In my view, given the importance of this issue it is not good enough to simply have good ideas that might work.

I am aware that the Airports Commission has said that capacity should not be released if a new runway is built until the air pollution standards are met. I cannot believe that once billions of pounds of taxpayers and private sector money had been spent on expansion, it will be possible to resist the pressure to use the runway, regardless of the levels of air pollution. It would be politically inconceivable to leave a runway empty whilst there was an argument about whether to use it because of air pollution.  Without the confidence in concrete proposals and recommendations to solve the air pollution problem, the Airports Commission ought not to have recommended it be built.

There has been opposition at various levels to airport expansion. People who would lose houses have more immediate and different concerns than air pollution and long term health issues. Then there is a swathe of people affected by aircraft noise and also concerned about air pollution and road congestion at local and regional levels. There is then a third category of people concerned about aviation policy in general such as Friends of Earth and the AEF, who are more concerned about the relationship between aviation and climate change.

As an organisation, the AEF have engaged throughout the process. The Airports Commission held quite a lot of sessions with individual groups and big public meetings. Lots of documents have been put out for consultation. We have responded fully to those. We have written to MPs and explained the situation as we see it. We have done as much as we could bearing in mind we are a national organisation. We have also attended party political conferences and done press work. We only have three full time staff. Our director represents all the world’s NGOs on the International Civil Aviation Authority, concerned particularly with Climate Change. The Aviation industry and Heathrow Airport have hugely more resources and it is difficult to counter the scale of their PR.

I do think that we have had an impact but if I am honest, I think it has been modest. It is not because of the quality of work we have done, but the quantity.

I think we are listened to by officials at the Department for Transport and MPs. But broadly speaking we are listened to by people who are already supportive of our work. Our ability to influence the public at large has been much less given the levels of PR from Heathrow Airport and Business First and the majority of the press.

Even when drawing the relationship between air pollution and premature death, we have not had great successes in bringing about the shift in policy that would be needed to reduce these levels of death. I think this is because there is a lack of understanding and willingness to understand public health issues. The contrast in publicity and concern between the 29,500 people who die annually from air pollution and the handful who die tragically in terrorism is huge. Most people appear not to want to know, either because it is an uncomfortable truth or gets in the way of other policies. The fact there are legal obligations in regard to air pollution does not seem to make much difference.

I have been a campaigner for nearly 40 years. In my experience, writing to MPs, responding to consultations, meeting officials and other conventional methods seem to have very little impact. As an organisation we run the risk of being co-opted onto committees which take up considerable time and compromise our independence. We see consultation processes which are charades, where policy has been determined in advance.

The democratic process is a bit of a sham. Unfortunately in reality it does not work when it comes to complex public policy processes such as this.

I am of the view that action is necessary to address air pollution and climate change caused by aviation. As a society we have known about the health impacts for a number of years and there has been virtually no action. All the work of the existing institutions and policy consultations have not succeeded in addressing these problems of air pollution. It may be the Government does indeed want to take action, but it cannot in the face of vested interests such as the motoring lobby and other business interests.

In this particular case, the thing which could have made a difference would have been if the government appointed somebody genuinely independent to chair the Airports Commission. It was so clear it was not independent. Howard Davies was chosen by government and was in contact with the government throughout the process. The secretariat for the Airports Commission was drawn largely from the Department for Transport.

We have experience as an organisation of lobbying the Department for Transport. Lobbying civil servants has been fairly soul-destroying. Air pollution is the statutory responsibility of the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). It is a weak department and has been heavily cut. In comparison to the Department for Transport (which is responsible for aviation policy), it does not appear to have much clout in determining policy which affects air pollution and climate change.

Even where the evidence of the link between aviation, air pollution and climate change is accepted and the consequences of those are clearly established, and legal obligations in place purporting to ensure compliance, the political process has not produced policy which allows for compliance with these obligations and reduce the harmful effects of non-compliance. I do not feel the conventional approaches have worked on this issue. I have learned it is not good enough to just be right on an issue or have legislation in place, when there are so many people who do not want to take action. It is my view therefore that the Defendants were justified in taking the action that they did and that it was necessary for them to do so. 

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 –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/judge-wrights-ruling-john-mcdonnells-witness-statement

And John McDonnell’s full statement is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/witness-statement-john-mcdonnell-mp

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 –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/sian-berry-statement

George Monbiot’s statement was also ruled inadmissible, and is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/george-monbiot-statement

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.

ENDS

 

Contact

Plane Stupid on 07745 207 765 or press@planestupid.com

www.planestupid.com

@planestupid

#heathrow13

#nonewrunways

-----

Notes

Previous coverage –

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/heathrow-third-runway-protesters-trial-freedom-fighters

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/12105559/Plane-Stupid-activists-accused-of-chaining-themselves-to-Heathrow-runway-hold-protest-outside-court.html

http://www.itv.com/news/london/2016-01-18/trial-begins-for-13-climate-activists-over-heathrow-runway-protest/

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/635836/Plane-Stupid-demonstration-Heathrow-runway-three

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/17/john-mcdonnell-evidence-heathrow-climate-activists-trial

 

Background

Defence summary

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.

#Heathrow13 Trial: Day 3

Update: This was the last day of evidence. We're back at Willesden Magistrates Court on Monday 25th at 10am for closing speeches (until approx. 11am), then the judgement that afternoon at 2pm or later. Arrive 30 mins before.

“Was someone in your family at risk of impending death?”, “Were they in hospital at the time?”, “Had they emailed or phoned in the preceding days to tell you that?”.

During the breaks in the trial, everyone chatting outside the courtroom was bemused by the logic of these questions by the Prosecutor. He set out to prove that the defence in English law of necessity, properly known as “duress of circumstance”, is limited to immediately preventing imminent death of individuals you feel responsible for such as family, and that the defendants were not acting to protect family members. He got increasingly frustrated when many of the 13 defendants refused to answer in terms of having no particular named individual on their deathbed, instead saying that knowing groups of people in threatened regions was enough. And the judge today also seemed tired by the same debate happening time after time.

The first one up today to respond to this line of questioning was Edward Thacker, from Sipson. By now the defence barristers are pre-empting the Prosecutor's questions themselves and asked:

“Who do you know that is impacted by climate change?”

“In the Sahel region, at the periphery of the Sahara desert, there is starvation now.”

“Do you know anyone there?”

“No”

“Does that matter to you?”

“No. [pause] It's never been more apparent, our interconnectedness. If we cannot be moved by common humanity, what hope do-”

The judge interjected: “I think you've done enough of this.”

So the defence barrister moved on: “Do you know people affected by Heathrow?”

“In the community I live in there is distrust of Heathrow over breaches of EU air pollution limits, over promises not to expand-

The judge again: “I think we're now straying into political statements. I want to avoid that.”

So the barrister moved on: “How did you come to be motivated about climate change?”

“When I studied geography at university, I learnt about the 2007 forest fires in the Amazon rainforest. The scale of the fire unnerved scientists. They could forsee a time when the Amazon rainforest becomes a carbon source rather than a carbon sink. I learnt about these terrifying positive feedback loops of warming, described as climatic tipping points.”

The judge stepped in: “I can't see that any of this is relevant. The Amazon rainforest really has very little to do with what happened on the day. I can see that the defendants are genuinely concerned about climate change.”

The barrister: “Was your action reasonable?”

Eddy: “Yes. It was urgent. Scientists warn that above two degrees of warming, these feedback loops could make climate change irreversible.”

Now it was the Prosecution's turn to show that acting was not, legally speaking, necessary, as we chose whether and when to do it: “You've known about this issue for some time.”

“Yes.”

And that we could not do enough to prevent death: “You knew you would only stop a small number of planes?”

“Yes, but there's a difference between the number of planes and the amount of carbon saved. A small number of planes are responsible for a vast quantity of carbon.”

Next up was Kara Moses, an outdoor educator and environment journalist.

Defence: “How did you come to be interested in a link between climate change and aviation?”

“I was teaching kids about the Zero Carbon Britain report, which shows that the UK can be zero carbon by 2050, using only existing, currently available technology. The only sectors that can't decarbonise are aviation and aspects of agriculture. If I can go into more detail?”

The judge: “No, I don't want to go into any more detail.”

The Prosecution: “You knew the authorities would remove you as soon as practicable, a relatively short time?”

“I thought I'd be there for most of the day.”

The judge intervened, as many of the other defendants had said they expected to stay for a few hours: “Is that really true? If you thought you were going to be there all day, how were you going to address basic needs?” She paused, then plucked up the courage: “such as going to the toilet?”

Kara replied: “We were wearing nappies, Madam,” amid giggles from the defendants in the dock.

The judge pressed on how long they had prepared to stay. Kara had described her position on the day, lying down with her arms locked to another defendant's arms within reinforced tubes. The judge asked: “Were you really expecting to stay in such an uncomfortable position all day?”

Kara explained: “A day of discomfort is a very small price I’m willing to pay. We live a life of privilege in the UK, compared to people in the global south who face the prospect of death and destruction of their homes every single day from climate change.”

“Why the 13th July?”

“The Davies report made me realise: I have to do something about this. The highest authorities are not going to do something about this. There has been a democratic failure. The biggest NGOs were working together on this, the now Prime Minister said it wouldn't happen.”

“Can you name people you know who are impacted by climate change?”

“When I was in Madagascar researching the links between primate behaviour, climate change and forest ecology, I met people who live in villages near the coast. They are in ongoing imminent danger of devastating cyclones.”

“Are there individuals you can name that were on your mind?”

“Yes, from when I did my research, there are individuals I can name if naming them is helpful. Shall I name them?”

The prosecution was a bit annoyed. Perhaps they feared that, like Rob's sister-in-law, the harrowing reality of their situation would not swing things his way: “No. We can assume that you are able to name people. Were you acting on any news recently received on 13 July that they were about to die?”

“No. Every single day they are in danger.”

“Did you receive an email or phone call from them warning of a cyclone?”

“Floods, droughts and cyclones are ongoing risks. Often they do not get warning of a cyclone, and they live in small rural villages and would not be likely to email or phone me even if they did.”

“I think we can accept that climate change generally increases threats to certain populations. I'm thinking of a particular threat to a particular person on a particular day. Was there one?”

“Often they don't get warning of a deadly cyclone.”

The judge stepped in: “Were you aware of one?”

“No. I'm aware there's a threat every single day.”

Next up was Richard Hawkins.

“How did you come to be motivated about climate change?”

“I remember it well. It was in the last year of my law degree, when I took a module on international environmental law. The lecturer said that essentially there is no international environmental law, or at least none that's worth the paper it's written on. Instead they'd just teach us about what appropriate laws would look like. That module changed my life.

“Have you worked professionally on aviation-related issues?

“I advised on how to communicate around a policy to, essentially, persuade people who fly 20 or 30 times a year to fly less. It was based on research that found that a small minority, 15% of flyers, take the lions share, 70%, of flights.

“And on climate-related issues?”

“I have worked with climate scientists on how to communicate their research, to make it accessible and motivational. I vividly recall the fear in the eyes of the climate scientists I've worked with when they described the impacts. A destabilised climate puts off the inbuilt cues that species' patterns of behaviour rely on.”

“Did that affect your decision to act on the 13 July?”

“I learnt that climate change is what's known as a stock problem, and not a flow problem. Put another way, the bathtub can still overflow while you're turning the tap off. We need to be turning the tap off fast. The Davies Report suggests the government wants to turn the tap on further. The Davies Report was the final straw, a signal of democratic failure on this issue.”

The prosecution pressed: “But the threat of climate change still remains?”

“Yes.”

“So actions of the defendants did not remove that threat?”

“We removed the threat posed by the emissions we stopped.”

“Were you aware of a press release by or on behalf of the group?”

“Yes”

The prosecutor asked: “So media was a purpose of the protest?”

“Media was an ancillary purpose. The primary purpose was to stop emissions.”

“So it was a purpose?”

“Yes, I think this is semantic. it was a multi-purpose action with a primary purpose.”

The Prosecutor replied: “I don't think you and I disagree about that.”

Next up was Bec Sanderson.

“How did you come to be motivated about climate change?”

“My dad worked in the British Antarctic Survey. He wrote one of the first papers on the effect of climatic warming on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. In my professional life I work on the psychology of action on climate change, on why we choose to act or not to act. Like Rich, I have advised climate scientists in the UK on how they communicate.”

After running through some of the earlier questions, the Prosecutor put to Bec: “The regrettable reality for your group is that that problem [of climate change] still remains.”

“It was not in response to the impending death of anyone in particular was it?”

“300,000 people died last year. I don't know their names and addresses.”

This, at last, was the end of all 13 defendants, having been asked by the prosecution whether their had a family member on their deathbed and whether their action had succeeded in stopping climate change. The visitors still in the court public gallery were by now around a dozen in total, down from around 30 on Monday: parents, journalists, campaigners including a Harmondsworth resident whose home would be bulldozed and supporters including a Heathrow worker.

Next, solicitor Raj Chada summarised the expert report of climate scientist Alice Bows Larkin:

1.1: “However, unlike other transport sectors, the altitude at which aircraft fly, and the sensitivity of this part of the atmosphere to chemical input, means emissions released there contribute additional climate warming.”

2.6: “Heathrow airport is estimated to contribute a little under 50% of the total CO2 produced by domestic and international flights associated with the UK.”

3.3: “For most sectors, CO2 cuts in line with the ‘well below’ 2°C goal could feasibly be brought about through a combination technological, operational and demand-side changes (although this would be very demanding to achieve). However, within the aviation sector, there is a major barrier to any significant technical change in the foreseeable decades that will improve efficiency or carbon intensity to a level that outstrips anticipated growth sufficiently for a proportionate response to the 2°C goal (Bows et al 2008). This is a view that is echoed by other academics and many industry sources. It is also is why the UK Government’s own projections for 2050 at best show a 12% reduction in CO2 from aviation between 2010 and 2050.”

8.1: “The IPCC state that if climate change continues as projected in line with their Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP), the major negative changes to health compared to a no climate change future will include (inter alia):
•    “Greater risk of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heat waves and fires (very high confidence)”
•    “Increased risk of undernutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions (high confidence)”
•    “Increased risks of food- and water-borne diseases (very high confidence) and vector-borne diseases (medium confidence)”(p713)”

“The World Health Organization (2014), through scenario analysis of future climate impacts, estimate the additional deaths due to climate change across a range of health issues known to be sensitive to climate change (heat-related mortality in elderly people, mortality associated with coastal flooding, mortality associated with diarrhoeal disease in children aged under 15 years, malaria population at risk and mortality, dengue population at risk and mortality, undernutrition (stunting) and associated mortality). Using a medium-high emissions scenario (this would be one that is relatively close to the current emissions track, and not a ‘well below 2°C’ scenario) they project an additional 250,000 deaths per annum due to climate change across this subset of potential health issues.”

8.2: In the recent Paris Agreement it was recognised that climate change “represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet”.

Next, Raj Chada summarised the witness statement of Bryan Tomlinson, a taxi driver from the Heathrow villages.

He says: “I have lived in Harlington, very close to Heathrow Airport on and off for 30 years.

“I have had asthma since I was a child but I have noticed that it has got worse in recent years. I believe that this is because of how close I live to Heathrow airport.

“There is only a chain link fence between my back garden and the airport grounds.

“I am certain the the pollution from the airport has affected my asthma. It is obvious. When I come out of my house I can smell burning rubber from the aircraft. When I wipe my face there is dust and grime on my face.

“I cannot go into my garden now because of the pollution and its effect on my asthma. I have to stay indoors or away from the area. This is becoming increasingly difficult as I have got older as I need to stay at home more frequently.

“The excessive noise from Heathrow Airport has also had a detrimental effect on my health. The noise from the aircraft taking off comes through the windows at my house. It drives me mad. This is another reason why I do not use the garden.

“The worse the noise gets, the more it causes me stress, which in turn affects my asthma and general health. It is becoming more and more depressing to live here.

“As a local resident I have just got used to Heathrow affecting my health. Everyone knows about it. It does not need to be said. You can tell by living here that it affects your health and that the life expectancy as a local resident of Heathrow is going to be shorter than for someone living elsewhere, which I have also read in studies.

“I have spoken to [the defendant] Sam about my health problems and the reasons I believe I am suffering from these problems, as outlined above.

“I am supportive of Sam and his actions, because of the impact the Heathrow has had on my health and on other local residents. I really do appreciate what Sam and the others have done. It means so much to me that they have put themselves on the line for us as local residents and for me personally.

“The noise and air pollution from the airport is getting worse and I believe that something needs to be done to prevent this increasing to an even more dangerous level.”

Next, the statement from Rob's sister-in-law was summarised, and then a statement from Philip Rumsey, a resident of Harmondsworth, the village that would be destroyed for the third runway.

“I visited Harefield Hospital as I was getting pains in my chest. They discovered I have a 99% blockage in two places in the Left Anterior Descending Artery. I am lucky to still be alive.

“I know that air pollution and noise can cause problems with blood clotting and the build-up of plaque in the arteries. No one else in my family have suffered with this. They all lived in South East London or the East End. I am the only one who moved to Harmondsworth. I have been here for 42 years.

“The effect on my life was that I could not walk quickly and could not walk uphill no matter how small the gradient. I have lost most of my energy and spend most days taking it easy. I had to rely on my wife to do all of the heavy work on our allotment and in the house.

“An operation that normally takes around 40 minutes took 2 ½ hours in my case.

“There is no guarantee that the blockage will not happen again. That would then entail a bypass to be performed.”

Next, statements were read out about the good character of the defendants.

This was followed by an impassioned battle between the defence and prosecution about whether MP John McDonnell's statement was admissible.

The judge said: “This will not assist me in my deliberations. The issue in the case is, 'Did the defendants honestly hold a reasonable belief that what they were doing was necessary to protect life and limb?'

Defence barrister Raj Chada argued hard that an issue in the case was what alternatives the defendants had. He said that the Prosecutor had put to a defendant that she should have persuaded elected representatives rather than taking direct action herself, and had then asked her whether she had stood for elected office.

McDonnell, he argued, was uniquely well placed to speak on the possibility of influence through the parliamentary process, as he has represented Hayes and Harlington constituency as an MP for 19 years. The constituency includes Heathrow. He was suspended from Parliament for five days after he protested in Parliament, calling the refusal to let MPs vote on a third runway “a disgrace to our democracy”. He launched a High Court judicial review that found that the Climate Change Act made plans for a third runway “untenable in law and common sense”.

So the judge asked the Prosecutor to simply agree the statement, to prevent defendants feeling “aggrieved”, but meaning McDonnell would not appear in court, saying: “I can understand this [the Prosecution position that the statement is not relevant] may be the case in law, but what harm does it do to your case?”

The Prosecutor was having absolutely none of it. In a feisty retort, he gave her short shrift: “Yes it is. That's the end of the matter.”

Although the judge tried again, the Prosecutor was dug in for war, bluntly stating “While I have some sympathy as a person for that argument, as a Prosecution lawyer I have none.” He paused. But he went on: “End of story.”

So the judge gave her ruling on McDonnell:

“In that statement, he [John McDonnell] talks about a number of things, including his views over the development of 4th terminal at Heathrow. His opposition to further expansion, based on the strongly held views of many constituents, living in surrounding villages. The concerns of local residents about the building of a third runway, for a variety of reasons, including the impact of increased air pollution. He talks about the deleterious effect of the expansion of the airport on climate change and confirms he has campaigned against further expansion of the airport.

“It talks about a High Court action in 2010 , which led to recommendations and promises from planning inspectors. He says that promises made have not been observed. He gives opinion on the debate about expansion of Heathrow and talks about the benefits of direct action, which he says are many, although it may cause short term inconvenience...

“Mr Chada's case is, in effect, that Mr McDonnell provides evidence that the democratic process has not worked and therefore it is relevant...

“Nothing in Mr McDonnell's statement assists me ... in relation to the threat to life or limb.

“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 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.”

Next, Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate for the London mayoral elections, watched from the public gallery rather than the witness box, as her evidence had already been ruled as irrelevant by the judge. Four more campaigners were ruled irrelevant. Out of the eight total defence witnesses, only four had their statements accepted, and none were permitted to appear in person.

Timetabling finished the day off and we went to the pub, where they were showing on the big telly a programme about police interceptors (cops in action with cameras). There was a moment of silence and heads turned when one of the clips started with a police car driving down a runway that had various emergency services vehicles already at the scene. “Is that them?” “It can't be” As the police car got closer, however, it became clear that it was an incident involving a microlite aircraft, and we returned to our afternoon pints and orange juices.

The next day, Thursday 21st (when I finished writing the blog), Transport secretary Philip McLoughlin said on LBC radio there should be a third runway decision “I hope later this year”, implying there was still a chance that a decision on the zombie runway might resurface after 2016.

The same day, scientists from Kings College London advised Londoners with heart conditions or breathing problems to reduce exercise and to stay at home due to a particulate air pollution alert.

Judge Wright's ruling on John McDonnell's witness statement

In that statement, he [John McDonnell] talks about a number of things, including his views over the development of 4th terminal at Heathrow. His opposition to further expansion, based on the strongly held views of many constituents, living in surrounding villages. The concerns of local residents about the building of a third runway, for a variety of reasons, including the impact of increased air pollution. He talks about the deleterious effect of the expansion of the airport on climate change and confirms he has campaigned against further expansion of the airport.

It talks about a High Court action in 2010 , which led to recommendations and promises from planning inspectors. He says that promises made have not been observed. He gives opinion on the debate about expansion of Heathrow and talks about the benefits of direct action, which he says are many, although it may cause short term inconvenience.

In order to allow his evidence to be given, I have to say if it is relevant.

[Defence barrister] Mr Chada has argued that it is relevant because during cross examination of [defendant] Ms Strickland, [Prosecution barrister] Mr McGhee asked a number of questions which were designed to establish that there were other courses of action open to her, including standing for elected office in order to use influence the democratic process, in order to achieve her goals. Mr Chada's case is, in effect, that Mr McDonnell provides evidence that the democratic process has not worked and therefore it is relevant to establish the necessity and proportionality of the action taken. 

I have endeavoured to persuade Mr McGhee simply to agree some Section 10 admissions. But he rightly points out that admissibility is entirely dependent upon relevance.

What I have to decide is whether the defendants genuinely believed that their actions were necessary to prevent death or serious injury. And, if the answer to that is yes, that objectively their actions were necessary and proportionate to achieve that end. Nothing in Mr McDonnell's statement assists me in my answer to these questions – it only assists me to the extent that I would need convincing of the necessity to take action on the basis that the defendants felt they had exhausted all other avenues for a particular purpose, not in relation to the threat to life or limb.

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 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.

George Monbiot statement

Successive governments of the UK, including the current one, have pledged repeatedly to limit the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, in order to meet the global target of no more than two degrees of warming. These pledges have taken the form of manifesto promises, public statements, negotiating positions at international talks and cross-party support for the Climate Change Act 2008, which establishes the policy of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as a legal obligation.

But, in common with other governments and international bodies, they have fudged the issue of aviation emissions, collectively failing to bring these within climate targets and emission reduction efforts. As Alice Bows-Larkin's testimony so ably demonstrates, aviation (and shipping) threaten to undermine the UK’s legal and international obligations.

The continued failure to address this issue, combined with the government’s commitment to the continued expansion of aviation capacity, makes a mockery of its pledges and targets, and substantially undermines the global target, affirmed at Paris, of no more than 2 degrees of warming, and ideally no more than 1.5. 

When a government breaks its own promises, undermines its own targets and threatens the common welfare of its own people and of citizens elsewhere in the world, what democratic options are left open to us? There is a long and honourable tradition in this country and elsewhere of citizens taking non-violent direct action in order to challenge unrepresentative, injust and life-threatening political settlements. Without such action, women, agricultural labourers and other propertyless men might have been left without a vote. The apartheid regime in South Africa may have persisted. The British might have remained in India. The transatlantic slave trade might not have come to an end. In fact, there are few aspects of what almost everyone on Earth now regards as human progress that have not been assisted by actions of the kind taken by the Heathrow 13.

In years to come, those who put their own liberty and in some cases their lives at risk in order to press governments to take action to prevent climate breakdown will be regarded in the same light as the suffragettes, the chartists, the anti-apartheid activists and the antislavery movement. 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.

Sian Berry statement

Statement in support of Plane Stupid campaigners

My name is Sian Berry. I have been an environmental campaigner for 12 years, working mainly in the area of climate and transport, and most recently worked as a road campaigner for Campaign for Better Transport where air pollution was a strong focus of my work, and where I was our representative on the Healthy Air Campaign coalition run by environmental lawyers Client Earth. 

I am currently the Green Party candidate for Mayor of London, and every one of my counterparts from the main parties are united with me in opposing a new runway at Heathrow because of the effects it will have on Londoners due to noise and air pollution. I also oppose a new runway at Gatwick on the grounds of its climate change impact. 

I strongly believe the campaigners acted out of necessity – the fact that the Government continues to consider a new runway at Heathrow is one of the most important problems we face in solving two major crises: climate change and air pollution. 

The proposals have been dropped before, there is a wealth of evidence of the harm they will cause and there have been many years of campaigning, by many residents around Heathrow, environmental campaigners and politicians from all parties, including local MPs (who include the current Mayor of London) local councillors, and politicians across London and the South East. 

Clear promises were made before the 2010 election by the current Prime Minister, upon which many people concerned about climate change and pollution may have based their votes, so the fact that a new runway is still being considered – and indeed was recommended by the Davies commission that was established after the last election, represents a severe deficit of democracy.  

Climate change

On climate change, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an acknowledged imperative by the Government, and a large reduction in emissions is part of a number of government targets and policies. 

However, the government’s aviation policy, including consider expanding Heathrow – a decision against which could have been made last November but has been postponed – is set to increase emissions and so runs counter to these aims and risks making it impossible to avoid breaching targets and limits set by the Government itself by reducing emissions only in other sectors.

Climate change occupies a high priority in UK policy because of the widely acknowledged human and economic costs of not preventing its effects on the earth’s ecosystems and on human health and well-being – many of which are already being felt, especially in developing countries.

The serious harm to human life that will be caused by continued climate change has been analysed and documented by many national and international bodies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

Air pollution

At Heathrow, air pollution is also a significant concern. Increasing the number of flights with a new runway will not only increase pollution emitted by airplanes themselves, but also increase the need for surface transport for passengers and workers and result in morepollution due to cars and lorries. Diesel cars, vans, taxis and heavier vehicles including buses and HGVs are responsible for a high proportion of London’s nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Two large motorways (the M25 and M4) run past the airport, and these and other nearby roads would see a large increase in traffic due to the expansion of the airport if it goes ahead. The areas around these roads are already in breach of EU air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution which the UK should have complied with by 2010. 

In retaining Heathrow expansion as a potential option, the Government’s interpretation of the law in relation to the risk of a new runway causing a further or continued breach of the relevant EU Directive is incorrect. 

Reporting to the EU is based on particular monitoring sites, which usually represent the worst breach of the legal limits in a reporting zone. For London this reference site is at Marylebone Road. The argument given is that increasing pollution at Heathrow therefore does not risk a further breach because it will only have a small impact on pollution at the Marylebone Road site. 

But this is clearly not the case – were efforts from the Mayor of London to result in Marylebone Road and other central London areas falling below the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, the area around Heathrow would then become the relevant point for reporting to the EU and London and the UK would still be in breach of the Directive. 

The same erroneous argument has also been used by Highways England in relation to road schemes, including the M4, which it would like to expand in the area around Heathrow. While at Campaign for Better Transport I challenged this interpretation at the recent examination on the M4, and a government decision on planning permission will be made later this year.  

Our submissions to the M4 examination included the clarification advice given in 2013 by the European Commission to Mr Simon Birkett of the Clean Air in London campaign that “limit values must indeed be complied with throughout the territory of any given air quality zone." It is not acceptable to allow pollution to remain above legal limits in a particular area for longer, just because for the time being there is somewhere else worse off within the same zone.

Knowledge of the deadly effects of air pollution is growing, including its effects on individual lives (researchers at Kings College are finding alarming results from their study of lung development in young children in areas of Newham and Tower Hamlets with high levels of air pollution) and across the population. 

Immediate harm and the reduction that would come from reducing aviation around Heathrow

Climate change is a long term problem – and a risk to life in many countries already. Recent severe weather in the UK has shown that there are also severe risks to life here too. Not expanding Heathrow, and stemming the growth in demand for aviation would have a very beneficial effect on the UK’s ability to contribute to the global reductions needed in carbon emissions. 

Air pollution is already exerting a severe toll on life in the UK, and especially in the immediate area around Heathrow in London.

In July 2015 the first estimate of the number of early deaths in London’s population due to excess levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution was made by Kings College and published as part of the Mayor of London’s Air Quality Strategy. This estimated the total mortality burden of long-term exposure to NO2 at up to 88,113 life-years lost per year in London, equivalent to 5,879 additional deaths annually.

Adding to this burden with a new runway, and associated ground transport would be highly damaging. In contrast, reducing aviation levels would help to reduce this mortality too.

Statement by John McDonnell MP

I have lived in my constituency for nearly 40 years. I represented the constituency as a councillor on the Greater London Council from 1981 to 1986 and I have been the local Member of Parliament from 1997.

Throughout the periods I have held elected office for this area I have been closely involved in dealing with the issues associated with the development of Heathrow Airport. This has included attendance at the planning inquiries on the development of Terminal Four and Terminal Five. For over 30 my years I have convened meetings of local residents to discuss the expansion of Heathrow airport and to consult them on the various proposals to expand the airport that have been brought forward over this period.

Although following local consultations I accepted the development of a fourth terminal at the airport, I opposed any further expansion based upon the strongly held views of many of my constituents, especially those living in the Heathrow villages and in the south of Hillingdon, that the levels of noise and air pollution and the loss of homes and indeed whole communities was unacceptable.

There continues to be extremely high levels of concern expressed by local residents at the threat of a third runway. Local people living in the Heathrow villages are naturally distressed that their homes will be demolished or rendered unliveable as a result of air pollution and increased noise. This will impact upon 4000 homes, accommodating approximately 10,000 local residents.

People are concerned at the rise in air pollution bearing in mind that the air pollution levels in the vicinity of the airport are already often above EU limits. They worry this causes some constituents health problems. Two local schools will be demolished if a third runway goes ahead as well as local community centres and community facilities. The village of Harmondsworth will largely be wiped off the face of the earth and the village of Sipson rendered unliveable.

Heathrow pollution is killing some of my constants and harming the heath of others. The EU limits are designed to keep people safe and yet repeated beaches, an immediate threat to people’s lives and health, are allowed to continue, and may be allowed to increase.

There is also an increasing appreciation and concern amongst my constituents about climate change and the deleterious effect airport expansion will have on tackling this threat to our future. Just as we know the toxic pollution Heathrow is producing now will effect people’s health, we know that the greenhouse gasses it is emitting will warm the climate, and yet we are still talking about expansion.

For all these reasons many of my constituents and I have been campaigning for many years against additional terminals and runways at Heathrow. We have used a wide range of methods in these campaigns including lobbying their local councillors, Members of Parliament and Government ministers. In addition they have used traditional methods of public meetings, marches, demonstrations and peaceful direct action.

The opposition to expanding Heathrow became a lot more visible, and more powerful, in the last ten years, as the environmental movement focussed on aviation, and particularly aviation growth, as a major threat to the climate, and the issue grew to become the defining local issue for many MPs and other politicians representing west London.

During 2010, along with counsellors, residents and environmental campaigners we took the government to the high court over plans to expand Heathrow. During this case we argued that the case for a third runway was not economically and environmentally sound. We won this case on these grounds and the judge said that expansion of Heathrow was untenable in law and common sense. This is still the view I hold today.

This campaigning has secured recommendations and promises from planning inspectors, politicians and indeed the owners of Heathrow airport that no further expansion would or should go ahead. The Planning Inspector at the Terminal 5 inquiry advised against further Heathrow expansion and the airport owners wrote to my constituents saying that they did not need and would not seek a third runway if they were given permission for a fifth terminal. The current prime minister prior to the 2010 general election famously stated “no ifs, no buts, there will be no third runway.” For many of us who had devoted enormous time and effort to this cause, this felt like a momentous event. We thought we had quite deliberately been given an unequivocal promise by the man who now has the final say.

Unfortunately these promises have not been held to and we are faced with a renewed lobby by the owners of the airport for expansion and the prime minister has argued that his promise was only for the lifetime of a Parliament and has set in train a process, which may believe is aimed at delivering expansion at Heathrow.

This has resulted in many considering that a return to campaigning including lobbying, demonstrating and direct action is needed to try and ensure that the promises of politicians and the airport owners are adhered to.

At times the debate around whether to expand Heathrow has been a disgrace to our democracy. The manoeuvring to keep the decision away from parliament and the people, including my constituents, and keep it between ministers and lobbyists, pushed me to stage my own  protest by taking the mace during a parliamentary debate in 2009 on the expansion of Heathrow, as a result of which I was suspended from parliament for five days.

My experience in politics over the last 40 years has shown me that these campaigning methods can be extremely successful in bringing the public’s attention to an issue and in influencing government decisions. Securing publicity by means of direct action can alert people across the country to an issue that then leads them to a closer examination of that issue and often taking the matter up with the relevant policy makers. In this way policies are influenced and changed for the good of the whole community. But in order to be a direct action rather than an extension of political speech, it also stops, or at least interrupts, the problem it is addressing, which makes it a disruptive act. Although the specific direct action can at times cause some short term inconvenience, by highlighting a threat like climate change, it can have a longer term and more significant effect on averting the impact of a greater risk.

When an activist or group decide to intervene to interrupt a problem directly, they take on a huge responsibility to ensure what they do is safe, proportionate and reasonable. No-one should disrupt other people’s lives lightly or without good cause.  But modern history is full of examples of peaceful civil disobedience which was both necessary and effective, and in many cases a vital defence of democracy. Some governments and some corporations need more than just a sternly worded letter.

Of course I will have always sought to and will continue to maximise the use of Parliamentary methods to seek to influence the Government’s decision on Heathrow but one of the most effective methods of securing political change on this issue in the past has been the demonstration by campaigning of the large scale and extensive opposition to an additional runway at Heathrow. Direct action campaigns have made a significant contribution to this. Given the urgency of the environmental problems Heathrow is causing, and the deeply disappointing lack of commitment shown by Heathrow and the government to unequivocal promises they have both made, it’s almost inevitable that activists will lose patience with a process that they no longer trust and do what they can to solve the problems themselves.

#Heathrow13 Trial: Day 2

The second day of trial got off to a roaring start, with 5 more defendants giving evidence in the morning session, and 3 in the afternoon.

Amusingly, after getting schooled yesterday by Ella Gilbert on the use of “Third World”, the prosecution lawyer McGhee has rather taken to using the term “Global South”. If nothing else, that’s an achievement in itself.

The Prosecution has been trying to prove that any effect we had on emissions was minimal in the grand scheme of things. Those who have given evidence so far have refuted this by comparing the emissions saved by cancelling 25 flights to the energy usage of individuals and households in the UK, and confirming that in absolute terms, the figures are astounding. Stopping a flight is probably the most significant action an individual can take to reduce emissions, if you consider that the average UK citizen generates 9.4 tonnes of CO2 in a year, and the average household uses 20.7 tonnes (and a flight emits about 11).

All the defendants have detailed the lengths which they have gone to in order to change their own lifestyles – most of us have not flown in several years, do not drive and are actively involved in campaigning.

Mel Strickland kicked off the day’s proceedings, delivering measured, sincere and impassioned evidence.  She emphasised that the actions of Plane Stupid on the 13th of July were a direct action, which directly reduced emissions from aviation by preventing aircraft from taking off. She drew on expert testimony from Alice Bows-Larkin to show that this was a reasonable and proportionate response, given that Heathrow represents 48% of UK emissions from aviation, and that aviation cannot be decarbonised.

"We are 13 ordinary people who find ourselves in an impossible situation…with the colossal problem of climate change. We don’t have the power, influence or resources that Heathrow does and there is no political will to change things via legal procedures."

Mel told the Prosecutor in her cross-examination that it is those who are unrepresented and have no stake in the political process, the millions who are suffering as a result of climate change, and local residents breathing poisonous air who she had in mind on that runway.

Amazingly, at this point, the Judge acknowledged that CO2 emissions cause climate change, with potentially “catastrophic” effects, and that aviation contributes to this.

Mel went on to say that efforts beyond the law are essential to democracy, and she exemplified, "That’s why you’re a Judge, Madam, because of the efforts of the suffragettes" ; hands-down most badass retort to the judge all day (or any day)!

She ended on another powerful note: "This action was a carefully considered minimum possible response to total political failure to tackle climate change. We felt it was a basic moral commitment to act."  BOOM!

Next up, Dr. Rob Basto gave an emotional and clear testimony. He was typically modest, underplaying the understanding he has as a result of years of work and the small matter of a PhD in atmospheric physics. As he mentioned, the Arctic may be nearly ice-free in the summer by mid-century. Rob cited reading about this 15 years ago (when it was nowhere near as certain) as one of the pivotal and terrifying moment when he really became aware of climate change.

Rob also spoke emotively about the impacts of Heathrow Airport’s toxic air pollution on his sister-in-law’s health. He drew a useful analogy with smoking – we have a law against smoking inside. By preventing one person from smoking, you are improving the health and life outcomes of everyone in the room. Just because there is no identifiable person or effect does not mean the law to prevent people smoking inside is any less valid. Cancelling flights is like this – one less plane is 11 tonnes more CO2 that is not emitted.

We all have a responsibility to act, and the danger is now, and Rob isn’t going to stand idly by while people die, and neither will any of the other defendants.

Graham Thompson is a veteran climate campaigner, and he explained at length the negative effects of emissions from aviation, particularly at high altitude. As he noted, Heathrow is a huge point source of emissions, second in the UK only to Drax Power Station.

Judge Wright’s patience began to "wear thin" after Graham continued to elaborate on climate change’s relationship with Heathrow, but again she noted that she was prepared to believe that all the defendants feel passionately about the issues and feel they’ve been "banging their heads against a brick wall."

Edge-of-the-seat stuff! What a result! Graham’s best quotes were tough to decide; it’s a clincher between these two:

"I’m sometimes concerned that I’m not doing enough, but I’ve never been worried I’m doing too much"

"I don’t believe I am entitled to break the law generally. I felt like breaking the law was not the most serious issue in this particular instance."


The Judge keeps coming back to the issue that the emissions prevented were a tiny fraction of those emitted globally – however, this doesn’t detract from the fact that the world is 250 tonnes of CO2 better off as a result.

Next up: the polar bear (AKA Cameron Kaye).  Cameron is a community campaigner who lives in the Heathrow villages and is involved with grassroots groups like HACAN and SHE. He restated that the Davies Report had been the final straw in terms of the campaign. 

When pressed by the Judge, he described the difference between a direct action such as ours and a protest. Direct action stops the issue that one is concerned about, whereas a protest is more about raising awareness and lobbying. On the issue of necessity: "I felt like I didn’t have a choice any more."

Comically, Cameron was grilled about why he was dressed as a polar bear – this mainly focused on the visual connotations and imagery associated as a means to suggest our actions were a publicity stunt.

Danielle Paffard, a "Professional Environmental Campaigner", took to the witness box next. She came out swinging with some comparisons and statistics on climate and aviation emissions. As she pointed out, 2015 was the hottest year on record and contained news of Indonesian forest fires, floods in the UK and droughts in California.

Before Danni could get much further the judge interjected to prevent the trial becoming a "political platform".

Even the government's own statutory advisor, the Comittee on Climate Change, is being ignored when it warns that uncontrolled aviation expansion will wreck policy. This represents a "huge failure in democratic processes [around Heathrow] and actions needs to be taken". There are no other avenues to take. As Danni aptly put it, "Given the scale of the challenge, I think it was completely reasonable. Given the scale of the challenge, I think it was completely necessary." Every tonne of carbon counts, especially when we’re running out of time.

The award for the best out of context quote for the day goes to District Judge Wright, on hearing that Danni's family, who make a living growing apples in California, were affected because drought wrote off the apple crop:

“Were you taking action in order to save the apples?”

Lucky number 8, Alistair Tamlit, focused on the failure of the political process, and the effects of climate change on people in the global South who are not responsible for emissions from aviation. He defended our actions as "absolutely" necessary and "absolutely reasonable in the face of the scale of climate change."

Sheila Menon rapidly followed, hailing climate change as a “human rights issue of gargantuan scale”. She reminded us that the window of opportunity to act on climate change is rapidly closing and therefore reinforced the urgency that underpinned our decision to act. Ordinary people are paying with their lives because economic growth and prosperity are prioritised over life and limb, and people around the world are discounted in decisions, alarmingly.

Sheila then highlighted the inadequacy of the Davies Commission’s findings in that they investigated which airport to expand rather than whether to expand at all. Deciding to fly more planes represents a “suicidal” decision, given that we are currently on track for 4°C warming, which would have severe implications across the world. Even sitting in the shade in the hottest parts of the world could lead to death from exhaustion and heat stroke.

The day concluded abruptly and somewhat dramatically with the Judge rescheduling and shortening the trial. Tomorrow is likely to be the last day of evidence, with the final 3 defendants giving evidence. Judgement is expected to be delivered next Wednesday, the 27th January.

#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.


Prosecution

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.