Heathrow 13 Protesters Spared Prison
Thirteen climate change protesters who broke through a perimeter fence at Heathrow airport and caused 25 flights to be cancelled were handed six-week suspended sentences and community service at Willesden Magistrates Court on 24th February. The activists, who occupied part of a runway last July, have also been banned from Heathrow.
The defendants, dubbed "The Heathrow 13", were found guilty last month of aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted area. They were told then that they could expect to receive jail terms. All had feared the worst and took bags to court containing the clothes and items they’d need if taken to prison immediately after sentencing.
A crowd of around 300 supporters started to gather from 8am having expected the Heathrow 13 to enter court at 9am and hear their sentences by noon. Instead, District Judge Deborah Wright continued to weigh up the arguments for and against a severe punishment.
Arguing against a prison sentence Kirsty Brimelow QC, speaking for four of the defendants, told Willesden Magistrates Court they believed they had been “acting in the public interest” and highlighted what she called a “hard-fought for” tradition of civil disobedience.
She said: “We have come a long way since the days of the suffragettes, since those people would have been locked up and treated appallingly.”
District Judge Deborah Wright said her understanding was that “immense” costs had been caused by the protest. Prosecutor Robert Short said prosecution costs had reached about £14,000.
The activists from direct action group Plane Stupid had to wait until nearly 4pm before they knew their fate. A large number of protestors were still waiting outside and as the news filtered outside that the Heathrow 13 had been spared jail. Once it had been confirmed that this applied to all the activists, including those that had a record for other direct actions, a loud cheer went up outside the court that could be heard in the courtroom.
In addition to the 6-week sentences suspended for 12 months, 11 defendants were ordered to carry out 120 hours unpaid work, and three protesters, Graham Thompson, Danielle Paffard and Roberto Basto, those with previous convictions, were ordered to do 180 hours.
The jubilant crowd were keen to celebrate with the Heathrow 13 but had to wait a little longer due to a luggage hold up! Then it was hugs and cheers with a bank of press cameras recording the event.