Gulity verdicts, but the fight continues

The defendants outside court

On Monday 6th December a two day trial began for the 11 defendants from Manchester Airport on Trial who blockaded Manchester Airport in May 2010. All 11 faced charges of wilful obstruction of a public highway for erecting two tripods across the entrance to World Freight Centre. Despite freezing temperatures there was a good show of support outside court and people from all walks of life, including Hasty Lane resident Pete Johnson, came down to the courthouse with banners to wish the defendants well.

Proceedings began, and by 1pm on Monday the court heard how the protest had been a ‘response to a flawed planning process’ and the ‘democratic process being thwarted’. The judge handed out fines averaging £300 per person to the nine activists who had pleaded guilty to the charges, unable to withstand the cost of the trial.

In the afternoon the case then focused in on Mark Haworth and Amanda Walters, who entered a plea of not-guilty, arguing that their protest was reasonable and proportionate. The court heard the defence case; that the expansion of the Airport would have significant impacts on local homes and globally in contributing to climate change. Furthermore, the court heard how other methods of redress had been tried prior to the protest action in May 2010.

Speaking after the case, defendant Mark Haworth said, “The battle against airport expansion at Heathrow, Stansted andGatwick was won because ordinary people came together, joined forces and took on the aviation industry. We’ve linked up with residents in Manchester and Heathrow and we’ll continue to challenge Manchester Airport’s expansion plans.”

Local residents Peter Johnson, Jon Smart and Holly Johnson with defendants Amanda Walters and Mark Haworth at Hasty Lane before the trial

A large part of the defence case focussed on the ‘reasonableness’ of the action given that other methods of redress had been explored. The witness statements of Manchester Councillor Martin Eakins and Hasty Lane resident Peter Johnson were read out verbatim by the Defence Counsel.

In the statement, Eakins described his close involvement in the campaign to Save Hasty Lane, including making official representations to the Wythenshawe Area Committee, petitions and letters to national government.

From Cllr Eakin’s written statement: “I feel that all democratic avenues were exhausted and I think it is reasonable to say that the only way avenue to achieve carbon reductions through traditional politics in this case was closed.”

In Peter Johnson’s written statement, he described his efforts to prevent his family home from being demolished.

From Peter’s written statement:

Mark and Amanda outside court

We are now in a position where help and support from other areas in continuing to oppose the decision means that another route must be used if we are to halt this and/or further expansion already proposed or identified by the airport.”

Despite the strong defence both defendants were found guilty.  Defendant Amanda Walters said, “The judge accepted that our concerns were legitimate and that other means of making our views heard had been tried. Whilst the Council continues to impose expansion of the airport onto local people, we will continue to oppose it.”. Mark Haworth and Amanda Walters were given a fine of £175 and £250 respectively plus were ordered to pay £460 in costs each plus a £15 ‘victim surcharge’ each.

Commenting on the verdict Peter Johnson said, “I’m disappointed for the individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty – for a cause we should all be worried about. This isn’t just a matter of concern for those of us living at Hasty Lane – the expansion of the Airport will have effects on the whole of Manchester, and the world too. Sadly, actions like these are seldom recognised as being right at the time, but the fight continues.”

Manchester Evening News coverage here.

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