Joy for protesters as Heathrow is denied ‘mother of all injunctions’

Joy for protesters as Heathrow is denied ‘mother of all injunctions’

 By Jonathan Brown     Independent

Published: 07 August 2007

Environmental campaigners seeking to stage a protest at Heathrow airport this
summer claimed a huge and symbolic victory yesterday after a High Court judge
massively scaled back the terms of an injunction sought against them.     The British
Airports Authority (BAA), which runs the airport, was ordered to pay the costs
of three groups who had challenged what was described as the most wide-ranging
limit on the right to protest Britain has ever witnessed.  

Meanwhile, in a separate victory for free speech, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord
Phillips, dismissed an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions that could
have seen the Parliament Square anti-war protester Brian Haw restricted in his
right to protest.

Activists hailed yesterday’s two rulings as a much-needed success in the face
of Britain’s increasingly repressive tide of legislation limiting freedom of protest.

The airport operator had been accused of trying to restrict the movements of
five million members of organisations including the RSPB, Greenpeace and the Campaign
for the Protection of Rural England across vast regions of London and the South-east.

If it had been granted, potential demonstrators failing to give BAA 24 hours
notice of their presence faced arrest under anti-stalking legislation, not just
at Heathrow but at Paddington station, the Piccadilly underground line as well
as parts of the M25 and M4.

The injunction was opposed by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who hired
a team of lawyers to be in court for the proceedings. London Underground and Transport
for London were also awarded costs and the judge said it was “extraordinary” they
had not been consulted before the injunction was sought.

But in what will be regarded as an embarrassing own goal for the airport, already
reeling from a welter of criticism on everything from lost luggage to lengthy
queues, the week-long Camp for Climate Action will now go ahead next week.

Organisers are seeking to highlight what they say is Heathrow’s massive contribution
to climate change – contributing 31 million tonnes of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere
each year.

On the final day of the Heathrow hearing, Mrs Justice Swift struck out applications
for injunctions against three of the groups named by BAA. These were against the
umbrella organisation AirportWatch – which enjoys the backing of dozens of mainstream
interest groups – the west London anti-noise group Hacan and local campaigners
No Third Runway Action Group.

She imposed a much more limited injunction based on local by-laws against three
men named by BAA and members of the direct action group Plane Stupid, preventing
them from disrupting the airport.

Instead of covering key parts of the capital’s road and rail network, the order
will extend only as far as the airport’s perimeter fence and property belonging
to Heathrow.

BAA said it feared the camp could pose a security threat in the face of heightened
terrorist fears and bring delays for up to 1.5 million passengers using the airport
on one of the busiest weeks of the year. The company denied in court that it was
trying to curtail civil liberties, insisting that it was merely trying to protect
passengers and staff.

BAA’s managing director, Mark Bullock, attempted to put a positive spin on the
company’s legal strategy. “We welcome the decision of the High Court granting
an injunction against Plane Stupid and all those acting in concert with them for
the purpose of disrupting the operations of Heathrow airport,” he said.

But Mr Livingstone said: “I welcome the decision of the court to effectively
reject BAA’s application for an injunction so wide that it could have potentially
affected millions of people. The judge clearly recognised that such an injunction
would have been unreasonable and unworkable.

“As Mayor of this city, my responsibility is to uphold the elementary principles
that people have the right to engage in peaceful, lawful protest and, at the same
time, no unrepresentative group has the right to break the law and disrupt the
journeys of holidaymakers or users of public transport. BAA tried to go far beyond
this with a measure so draconian that it attacked the civil liberties of millions.”

John Stewart, chairman of Hacan and one of the men named under the injunction,
said: “BAA came here looking for the mother of all injunctions but what they have
is the mother of all setbacks.”

Joss Garman, who along with Mr Stewart and a third man agreed to abide by the
terms of the injunction, poked fun at BAA’s legal team, led by Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden.

“BAA’s legal adviser claimed he was a legal rottweiler – today he looks like
Scooby Doo. They have lost badly. They tried to seek an injunction against millions
but they have failed,” he said. The organisers of Camp for Climate Action, which
last year targeted the UK’s largest coal-fired power station at Drax in East Yorkshire,
said they expected to benefit from the publicity. “People will now see this not
just as a climate change issue but as a corporate power issue and a freedom to
protest issue,” said a spokeswoman.

Mrs Justice Swift, who disclosed she was a member of three of the organisations
named in the original proposed injunction, said: “I am satisfied the terms of
this injunction are no wider than necessary.”

Victims of the crackdown

* 2005: The year saw a spate of police crackdowns on protesters. The most famous
example was Walter Wolfgang, filmed being led out of the hall at Labour party
conference after heckling a speech on Iraq by Jack Straw.

* Also in 2005: Maya Evans was convicted under legislation brought in under Tony
Blair and designed to stop protests around Parliament, after refusing to stop
reading out a list of the names of British dead soldiers on the steps of the Cenotaph.

* 2006: Brian Haw, who has been living in Parliament Square since 2001 protesting
at US-UK foreign policies, saw his display severely reduced and placards confiscated.

* 2006: In August the same year Mark Barratt, in his mid-30s, was prosecuted
for staging an “anti-war tea party” on Parliament Square.

* 2006: And in September John Catt, 80, was arrested for wearing an anti-Blair
t-shirt on Brighton beach.