‘Bullying’ BAA tries to scare off protesters

11.1.2009 (Guardian – Observer)

Politicians say airport operator was ‘outrageous’ to send demo letter

by Amelia Hill, social affairs correspondent

Politicians are accusing BAA, Britain’s largest airport operator, of “bullying” after it sent a warning letter
to those due to take part in a mass protest at Heathrow tomorrow.

John McDonnell MP and Caroline Lucas MEP say they were outraged to be sent such
a thinly disguised threat. The letter said: “While we respect people’s right to
protest, we also have a duty to ensure that thousands of passengers can go about
their lawful business within our airport on that day.

“You should be aware that the planned protest coincides with a scheduled El Al
departure, during which armed Metropolitan Police officers will be patrolling
the terminal.     Given the current situation in the Middle East, it is vital that
protesters do not put themselves at risk within the terminal.”

The letter, sent by Terry Morgan, BBA director of standards and assurances, went
on:     “As an elected representative, I have no doubt that you will have sought
assurances that the protest will be a peaceful one, and that you are keen to avoid
any unnecessary disruption or danger to our passengers, protesters or your own

John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, whose constituency includes Heathrow, condemned
the letter as “a cynical attempt to undermine a peaceful and entirely legal protest”.

“For a PR department to threaten legal protesters with being attacked is outrageous,”
he said. “Added to which, I do not need BAA to inform me of my duties ‘as an elected
representative’.   To add insult to injury, it’s appalling of them to trade off
events in Gaza in this cynical manner.

“In view of the fact that this letter originates from BAA’s public relations
department, many may well consider that it is part of BAA’s PR campaign to seek
to discredit those who protest against Heathrow expansion,” he added.     “But what
I think shines through the condescending, intimidating tone of this letter is
how deeply worried BAA has become about the opposition to expansion.”

Dr Lucas, MEP for the South East and Green Party leader, said the letter was “clearly designed to intimidate“.  “It’s outrageous that, in its efforts to try to prevent a legal, peaceful
protest, BAA is using veiled threats about the lengths the police will go to,”
she said.

“This is an outrageous abuse of BAA’s position. It should not be taking it upon
itself to speak or act in the name of the police,” she added.  “This is bullying of the most unpleasant kind.”

Tomorrow’s protest comes in the week the government is expected to announce its
decision on a third runway at Heathrow.   Organised by Climate Rush, the protest has been publicised as “a peaceful picnic”, during which protesters
will debate expansion while “keeping the pathways clear for everyone and ensure
no one trips on our dinner party accoutrement”.

Tamsin Omond, one of the organisers of tomorrow’s protest, said: ” We are expecting Labour
to decide in favour of the expansion of Heathrow this week, which, in a time of
economic and environmental crisis, is unacceptable.  BAA’s attempts to intimidate
a group of peaceful picnickers, who go to Heathrow with the support of well-respected
politicians, is a troubling development for the anti-expansion campaign.”

But Damon Hunt, group head of media at BAA, denied the letter was inappropriate.
“We are surprised that anyone would find the letters intimidating,” he said. “BAA
is prepared to facilitate a peaceful protest within our terminal, but any action
which targets passengers or disrupts flights is irresponsible, dangerous and potentially

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said:   “We have worked closely with
BAA and have always said that armed officers and protesters do not mix.”