Runway protesters Plane Stupid take to roof of parliament
Protesters demonstrating against plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport
today staged a demonstration on the roof of the Houses of Parliament.
The breach will come as an embarrassment to the government as security has supposedly
been tightened in recent years in response to the terrorist threat and past incursions.
Gordon Brown today condemned the activists, telling MPs during his weekly question
time session: “Decisions should be made in this house and not on the roof of this
house, and that is a very important message to send out to protesters.”
The five activists, from the campaign group Plane Stupid, had unfurled two huge
banners, one saying “No third runway”, and the other, “BAA HQ”, in a reference
to the airport’s operator.
Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The demonstrators ended their protest shortly after midday, descending from the
roof. A police spokeswoman said they had all been detained and would be arrested.
Earlier police said there was a “strong possibility” the protesters had been
the guests of parliamentary passholders.
Westminster sources said they suspected the banners were stored inside the Commons
for the group to collect, as they were too big to have been taken through security.
But Plane Stupid insisted the campaigners took them in.
“I know we have exposed a huge security flaw up here but our message is the same
[as the Heathrow airport protest on Monday],” Richard George told guardian.co.uk
from the roof. “It’s not as big as the flaw in the government’s climate change
The 27-year old claimed the Plane Stupid group walked into the Houses of Parliament
through the main St Stephen’s entrance as visitors attending a debate on the Palestinian
occupied territories at 9.30am. He said their banners were undetected by armed
police officers and despite airport-level security.
“We said we were watching a committee and got a lift up to one of the committee
corridors and then walked through a fire escape on to the roof,” he said. “We
then walked across a walkway to the front of the building.”
He said Plane Stupid, whose previous stunts include rushing the stage at aviation
conferences, had staged the protest to highlight “collusion between the government
and BAA” over a consultation on Heathrow expansion – including a proposal for
a third runway – that ends today.
The other protesters were a Greenpeace employee, Graham Thompson, 34; Leo Murray,
31, an animation student at the Royal College of Art; Olivia Chessel, 20, a youth
worker; and Tamsin Omond, 23, an English literature graduate at Cambridge University
and volunteer church worker.
The protesters chained themselves to a stairwell on the roof. Police quickly
moved in and cut through the chains but still faced a battle to remove them safely.
The rooftop protest came just two days after Greenpeace activists protesting
against the third runway staged a demonstration on top of a British Airways jet
Matthew Knowles, spokesman for the Society of British Aerospace Companies, said
the stunts were “becoming tiresome” and “peddle inaccurate propaganda”.
“Heathrow’s expansion is of national importance if jobs are to be safeguarded
and created both locally as well as in the City and across the country,” he said.
In 2005 the government passed legislation banning protests within 1km of Parliament
Square to remove the anti-war protester Brian Haw from the square, although it
also cited security concerns.
The threat posed by terrorists has seen a number of other security measures introduced,
including concrete blocks placed around the Houses of Parliament.
Plane Stupid scales Parliament
27th February 2008
Climate campaigners hang ‘NO 3rd RUNWAY’ banner before PMQs
Campaigners opposed to Heathrow expansion have scaled the roof of the Houses
of Parliament and hung protest banners from the building before Prime Minister’s
Questions is due to begin.
The three men and two women from climate action group, Plane Stupid, opened an
outside door before walking along the roof and dropping two banners. The non-violent
direct action comes on the day a government consultation into Heathrow expansion
ends. The protesters are making paper aeroplanes out of confidential Whitehall
documents that reveal the process is fixed, and gliding the planes into the MPs’
car park below.
The documents – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – prove that airport
operator BAA wrote parts of the consultation document and that the government
has already decided to build a 3rd runway and 6th terminal at the world’s biggest
One of the banners, facing Parliament Square, brands the House of Commons ‘BAA
HQ’ while the other says ‘NO 3rd RUNWAY’. Richard George, 27, from London is on
the roof. He said:
I’m standing on the roof of Parliament because the democratic process has been
corrupted. The aviation industry has taken full advantage of a weak Prime Minister
to get the Heathrow consultation fixed. It doesn’t even consider global warming,
despite everything Brown has said about the environment and despite the massive
impact that aviation has on the climate.
This Prime Minister doesn’t even have the courage to ask Londoners the very simple
question, do you want a third runway? Instead his government published a consultation
document full of gobbledygook and industry spin. Now the consultation is over
we can safely ignore the fixed result and get on with the job of stopping this
new runway being built. A huge coalition of local residents, Londoners and environmentalists
is coming together, supported by all the major mayoral candidates, to stand against
Gordon Brown and say ‘no more’.
BAA and Brown want to see a sixth terminal and third runway built over homes,
schools and churches in the villages of Sipson and Harmondsworth. This would increase
the number of flights from 480,000 a year to at least 702,000. Two million Londoners
face increased levels of noise, while CO2 emissions from the airport would shoot
up despite claims by Brown that he’s committed to fighting climate change.
The rooftop occupation comes two days after Greenpeace protesters scaled an Airbus
A320 which had just touched down at Heathrow from Manchester.
The protesters have branded Parliament ‘BAA HQ’ because of the extraordinary
level of collusion between the aviation industry and government. Secret documents
obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveal the existence of a previously
unknown body called the ‘Heathrow Delivery Group’ – comprised of government and
BAA officials. The group is charged with getting the new runway through the consultation
process and neutralising ‘risks’ to the project such as Londoners who oppose Brown’s
– ENDS –
Plane Stupid press phone:
* Rev Malcolm Carroll on 07982 205871 / Leila Dean on 07847 204469
The Whitehall documents can be viewed at www.greenpeace.org.uk/baa. The documents reveal close links between BAA and the Department of Transport,
working together to influence the outcome of the consultation, including: Extraordinary
collusion between BAA and the government. They have set up a joint body – the
Heathrow Delivery Group – aimed at steering the plans through the consultation
process; BAA officials have written parts of the consultation; BAA supplied the
data for calculations of noise and pollution that inform the premise of the consultation
document. Opposition groups have not been permitted to challenge the data; The
Department for Transport and BAA have drawn up a ‘risk list’ – a list of threats
to the building of the 3rd runway. The list includes the 2M campaign, the group
comprising councils representing 2 million people that is opposed to the plans.
Labour/industry revolving door: Trade minister Sir Digby Jones is the former
CBI boss who became chair of the new aviation industry lobby group, Flying Matters.
The group was recently formed to take on environmentalists over airport expansion.
Gordon Brown also appointed Joe Irvin, formerly a director of the aviation lobby
group Freedom to Fly, to become one of his inner circle of advisors too. Freedom
to Fly was the brainchild of Steve Hardwick – another of Labour’s key Millbank
apparatchiks – while the organisation was previously chaired by Labour peer Brenda
Dean and directed by Dan Hodges, the son of Glenda Jackson who was Labour’s first
aviation minister. Dan Hodge’s wife, Michelle De Leo, is the new director of Flying
The chancellor, Alistair Darling, the bete noir of climate campaigners, is far
from a stranger to BAA either. In fact, he was the guest of honour who officially
launched a group called Future Heathrow, who are lobbying for a third runway and
a sixth terminal at the airport. Future Heathrow, is headed up by another Labour
peer, Lord Soley, who works out of a BAA office in West London. BAA’s new communications
chief is former Downing Street spin doctor Tom Kelly.