Campaigners remain defiant after Manchester airport protest sentencing
At the end of a two day trial 6 campaigners from the ‘Manchester Airport on Trial’ group were sentenced today following pleas of not-guilty to charges of aggravated trespass. They were standing trial for an action last May 2010 where they formed a human circle around the wheel of a Monarch Airline jet, acting out of necessity to prevent the higher crime of climate change.
After an exciting trial where the defence called upon expert witnesses including climate scientist Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, public health expert Robin Stott, and Heathrow MP John McDonnell amongst others the judge recognised the “sincerity” and “laudable motives” of the protesters, and handed down lenient sentences of 2 year conditional discharges and £310 court costs whilst One defendant received 80 hours of community service.
Although the coalition government cancelled plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, regional airport expansion is still being heavily pursued. In November 2009 Manchester Airport received planning approval from Manchester City Council to expand the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport and increase passenger numbers by a third, which will result in the demolition of local homes and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Despite a High Court ruling which recognised the incompatibility between expansion plans at the UK’s commitments to emissions reduction targets, Manchester City Council has shown an unwillingness to rethink their plans or engage in discussion.
During the trial Martin Eakins, local councillor for Northenden, described the local efforts to prevent expansion at the Airport. In response to the judge’s suggestion that campaigners would have had a strong case for judicial review of the plans, he explained that they had been refused funding on the basis that their challenge would be unsuccessful. Local resident, Pete Johnson, whose home on Hasty Lane faces demolition, told the court that their efforts to engage with the council and oppose the expansion were “thwarted by politicians with vested interests,” and that he felt “angry, frustrated and cheated.”
This was fittingly reflected in a statement from John Mcdonnell MP, who vocally opposed the third runway at Heathrow.
“When governments themselves so blatantly ignore the wishes of the people they are elected to represent, when they promote the sectional interests of one sector of business above the interests of their citizens, when they deny Parliament an effective role, when they subvert their own democratic planning processes, and when their actions so dangerously contradict their own legislation on climate change, responsible citizens are left with no alternative but to take direct action to further the cause that they believe in.”
One of the most inspiring and reaffirming experiences for the defendants and everyone who attended the trial was hearing from leading climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who spoke out on the aviation industry’s ‘special treatment’, asking;
“Why is it fair that aviation continues to be a special case while every other sector has to reduce their emissions? Every year we have an exponential increase in CO2 embedding us in a future of dangerous climate change. If aviation continues to grow that means we’re heading for 4 degrees, but that would only be a transient temperature on the way to an equilibrium rise of 6 to 8 degrees. A rise of 4 degrees is dire, above that it gets worse and worse- it is a future that we contemplate at our own peril.”
He also highlighted how aside from setting fire to a large pool of kerosene in your back garden, flying was the most carbon intensive activity that anyone can engage in.
Speaking at the end of the trial the defendants released the following statement:
“This is the first action in the north contesting airport expansion, and whatever the outcome in court today, this trial will not be the last.
The court heard from respected climate scientists that climate change is accelerating, and continues to be the biggest threat to life as we know it. Having heard from this, the expert testimony, we are more convinced than ever that our actions were justified and necessary.
We have heard in court today from local Councillor Martin Eakins, and from Heathrow MP John McDonnell that the political system both locally and nationally is failing to address the public health emergency that is climate change.
The court heard that Manchester Airport’s expansion plans are based on outdated and flawed policy. Manchester City Council, who own the airport, have a responsibility to abandon proposed plans and change course while there is still time.
The court heard from local resident Peter Johnson, whose home on Hasty Lane faces demolition in order to expand Manchester Airport. He expressed how efforts to oppose the expansion were “thwarted by politicians with vested interests”; and how he felt “angry, frustrated and cheated” by the system that is supposed to represent him.
None of this evidence was challenged in court, and yet the court saw fit to find us guilty.
As the court heard, civil disobedience has a long and honourable tradition in this country, and Manchester has a proud place in that history. We all have a duty, and a responsibility, and we will continue to act to stop climate change.
We would like to thank everyone who has supported us during the trial, locally, nationally and internationally.”