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'Heathrow 13' climate activists avoid jail time
Paul Heron, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers executive committee (personal capacity)
'Heathrow 13' climate activists have received suspended sentences for protesting against airport expansion.
On 25 January, district judge Deborah Wright found the 13 activists guilty of aggravated trespass and being unlawfully airside. They had occupied part of Heathrow Airport in July 2015.
Justice Wright rejected the 13's claim to a 'necessity defence'. That is an argument that their actions were to prevent serious injury or death. She told them to expect custodial sentences at their sentencing hearing.
No doubt the establishment would have liked to make an example of the Heathrow 13 to discourage future acts of protest. The threat of jail time - an attack on the democratic right to protest - galvanised supporters.
Environmental campaigners, trade unionists and community activists rallied outside on the day of sentencing. 300 people were packed outside the court on 24 February, mirroring a ferocious campaign to ensure the Heathrow 13 did not receive a custodial sentence.
In the end, that campaign was successful. Although the 13 all received sentences of six weeks, suspended for 12 months, the campaign ensured their liberty and helped keep climate change on the agenda.
The Heathrow 13 protest came after the UK's Airport Commission recommended building a third runway at Heathrow. This report was set up by the current Conservative government, which had come into the election opposed to such expansion. Like many of their promises, this was reneged upon.
Following the recommendation of the Commission for a third runway, the Heathrow 13 took peaceful direct action in July 2015 to highlight opposition. The 13 environmental activists occupied the runway, and on doing so, immediately notified the police and Heathrow Airport Holdings.
Their action was designed not only to show opposition to the proposed third runway, but to highlight the damage that the increase in long and short-haul aviation will cause to the environment.
The 15 warmest years in history have occurred since 1998. The main scientific body that monitors climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose most recent reports gave more proof of the looming danger.
A significant change from the previous assessment in 2007 is that sea levels are now predicted to rise by one metre by 2100, almost double the previous estimate. Other scientific studies put the sea rise at two metres. Either way, the result will be disastrous for hundreds of millions of inhabitants of low-lying coastal regions, especially in underdeveloped economies.
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