Supportive protest outside start of Plane Stupid’s #Heathrow13 trial for Heathrow incursion in July

The trial of the 13 members of Plane Stupid, who broke into Heathrow airport on 13th July, started at Willesden Magistrates Court on 18th. They are charged with Aggravated Trespass and entering a security restricted area. Their protest caused the cancellation of some 25 flights, which saved an estimated 250 tonnes of CO2. In doing so, they argue that helped to save lives in the Global South, by making a small cut in the emissions that fuel climate chaos. All 13 are pleading not guilty, and say their action was reasonable and justified in the climate context. They say “Climate defence is not an offence!” The judge hearing the case, by herself, is Judge Wright. The prosecution has been brought by the CPS. There was a large gathering outside the court, for the start of the trial, with many groups expressing their solidarity. This started with a short statement by the #Heathrow13 on their defence, before they entered the court to repeated chants of “No ifs, No Buts, No new runways!” Judge Wright declared that the fact that aviation fuel is linked to climate change is indisputable. The judge is looking at two issues:  1.  Did the 13 genuinely believe their actions were necessary to prevent death or serious illness?  And 2. Whether objectively their actions were reasonable and proportionate in order to prevent death or serious illness.


All outside court

The 13 cut the fence and set up a tripod with a Heras fence triangle on the far eastern end of the northern runway, on 13th July, with many of them locked to each other, and to the structure.


Heathrow 13 Trial: Day 1

18/01/2016  (Plane Stupid Blog)

Today saw the beginning of the #Heathrow13 trail, who on the 13th of July 2015, occupied the Northern Runway at Heathrow airport. In doing so they cancelled 25 flights and saved an estimated 250 tonnes of CO2. In doing so, they argue that they have saved lives in the face of climate chaos. All 13 are pleading not guilty, as this action was reasonable and justified in the climate context. Climate defence is not an offence!

Solidarity Demo

The day got off to an amazing start. Around 100 supporters came to show solidarity in a demo called for by the national campaign network, Reclaim the Power. The demo began with a statement from the #Heathrow13, in which they explained why their actions were justified. They argued that the effects of climate change due to emissions from aviation are happening now and are being felt locally and globally, predominately by those in the Global South who have least to do with causing climate change. They also stated that the failed ‘no ifs, no buts’ promise of David Cameron further jeopardises our future. A video of the full statement can be seen here.

In addition to this there was singing from a radical choir, massive inflatable #redlines cobblestones and solidarity banners with international struggles against aviation, such as la Zad in France.

The #Heathrow13, then, proudly entered the court to chants of “No ifs, No Buts, No new runways!”

The day’s proceedings

Inside the court, the day began with a discussion about the expert witness, Alice Bows-Larkin, who is a climate change and aviation expert. Unfortunately, it was decided that she would not be allowed to give evidence in the court. On the plus side, however, this was because the Judge Wright declared that the fact that aviation fuel is linked to climate change is indisputable, which is a huge statement for a judge to make.


Next, the prosecution put forward their case. This was fairly straightforward, mainly confirming the facts that the 13 activists were: on the runway, created a structure of Heras fencing and a tripod and that people locked on in a variety of different ways in order to prevent as many flights as possible from taking off. A video was shown from the police, which showed this. Chuckles may have been heard when a polar bear on top of the tripod came into shot. None of these facts are contested by the activists.

The prosecution then called 2 witnesses: Mr Oxby the head of business resilience and Mr Thomas who is the ‘Flow Manager’. They mainly gave evidence about the supposed level of disruption caused to the airport. On cross examination, however, it was made clear that despite causing 25 flights to be cancelled, the impact on passengers could not be separated from the effects of weather, nor was it likely that the number of passengers supposedly affected was accurate given that most flights cancelled were short haul and therefore it is likely that passengers could be moved onto later flights.

Mr Oxby claimed that Heathrow airport contributes around £7bn to the UK economy. He was unable to answer, however, if this took into account the impacts of climate change, for example the costs from the recent floods in the North of England, which scientists from Oxford university say has a 40% probability to have been caused by climate change. Nor could he say if it took into account the local impacts on peoples health or early deaths.

Defendants Evidence

In the second half of the day, the first two defendants gave their evidence in court. This first began with Ella Gilbert, who having two climate change related degrees [the second a Masters in a climate science topic from the University of East Anglia], brought the science of climate change into the courtroom – quite literally as the lawyers presented a huge ring-bound folder of peer – reviewed science, which Ms. Gilbert said was only a selection of the most seminal papers which have informed her decision to take part in this action against climate change.

She stated that papers such as the IPCC’s 2015 report laid out the science clearly; that the evidence was ‘unequivocal’ that climate change is ‘human induced’ and that the recent warming is ‘unprecedented’. Thus, the need for radical action.

She further highlighted the impacts of climate change on sea level, the spread of disease, agriculture, and extreme weather – all of which are going to hit the Global South hardest.

She also added that that following the 2008 Climate Change act it has been recommended that a cap on aviation emissions be set at 2005 levels. However, aviation is the fastest growing source of CO2 in the UK, and we are set to miss the 2050 targets at this rate.

The second defendant to take the stand was Mr Sam Sender, who grew up under the flight path and has lived in the Heathrow villages for around 3 years. This meant that he has personal first hand knowledge of the impacts of Heathrow on local health, such as the ‘Heathrow Cough’, the increased levels of asthma and the fact that every Londoner has their life expectancy cut short by 2 years due to air pollution.

Judge Wright pressed both defendants on why they chose to stop emissions from aviation when other transport such as cars cause a larger amount of CO2 in the UK. It was mentioned, however, that in the area surrounding Heathrow, the majority of traffic is related to the airport and therefore cannot be separated. (Also, perhaps we should also fight roads and cars too – like the Combe Haven Defenders do!). [Judge Wright commented – paraphrasing her words – that as cars produce more CO2 per year than planes, “I’m not suggesting you do it” but why did the protesters not block a road to cut carbon?  AW note]

Both defendants came across as knowledgeable, passionate and reasonable individuals. So much so that Judge Wright repeatedly stated that she had no doubt about the genuine beliefs of the activists in taking this action.

The trial continues tomorrow, in Wilsden Magistrates, with around 7 more defendants giving evidence.


The trial had been expected to last as long as two weeks.  However, Judge Wright does not appear to want to hear evidence from expert witnesses, so the process may be complete by Friday.  The Judge my even give her verdict by Friday this week, rather than take up court days – a valuable resource – next week.

More photos from the first day of the trial:

Natalie Bennett Shahrah Ali Jonathan EssexWith Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett and Deputy Leader,  Shahrah Ali, and Jonathan Essex 

We are in it for the long haulPlane Stupid banner: “We are in it for the long haul” and Green Party “No New Runways” banner

Red line

La ZAD partout NDDL

Solidarity with the protesters at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, where a new runway for Nantes is planned – and where a protest attended by about 20,000 people took place on 9th January.

Aviation Expansion Climate Threat

Plane Stupid activists accused of chaining themselves to Heathrow runway hold protest outside court

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett joins dozens of protesters on first day of trial for campaigners who allegedly locked themselves to railings

Activists protest in front of Willesden Magistrates' Court

Activists protest in front of Willesden Magistrates’ Court Photo: Frank Augstein/AP

Thirteen members of the Plane Stupid group allegedly cut a hole in a fence before attaching themselves to railings in a protest againstexpansion that caused widespread delays for passengers.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett joined dozens of protesters with banners and signs outside court on Monday morning, the first day of the two-week trial.

“We are all pleading not guilty, as our actions were a reasonable, proportionate and justified response to the scale of the problem of climate change, a problem that aviation contributes massively to as the fastest growing source of carbon emissions,” the defendants said in a statement read by Rebecca Sanderson, one of the group members.

There was applause from the public gallery, which was packed with supporters, as the defendants entered the dock at Willesden Magistrates’ Court.

District Judge Deborah Wright warned the public to “behave” or they would be thrown out. “If you start behaving like that I will exclude you. This is a court it isn’t a theatre,” she said.

Speaking outside court, Ms Bennett said: “Our party applauds the determination of the Heathrow 13. We stand up for the activists just as they are standing up for our planet.

“Our party applauds the determination of the Heathrow 13. We stand up for the activists just as they are standing up for our planet”
Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader

“Bigger airports make no climate sense. The UK cannot make its contribution to cutting carbon emissions whilst expanding its airports and increasing emissions from aviation.

“If this Government is in any way serious about delivering climate-sensitive policies then airport expansion plans must be immediately shelved and other measures – including encouraging short-haul flight passengers on to existing rail services and introducing a frequent flyer tax – must be explored.”

The demonstration, at around 3.30am on July 13 2015, caused delays for passengers around the world and 22 flights out of the airport were cancelled.

It came after a long-awaited report recommended a new runway should be built at Heathrow, rather than Gatwick.

After three years of investigation, the Airports Commission said Heathrow was best placed to provide “urgently required” capacity.

But environmentalists warned that building a new runway there will make it harder to reduce air pollution and climate change emissions.

The seven men and six women took turns to stand and give their names and addresses.

They are charged with aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted area of an aerodrome.

A supporter joins 13 climate change protestors from the activist group Plane Stupid at Brent Magistrates Court, January 18, 2016

A supporter joins 13 climate change protestors from the activist group Plane Stupid at Brent Magistrates Court   Photo: Jane Mingay/The Telegraph

It is alleged that they entered the northern runway at London Heathrow Airport, having trespassed on the land, and in relation to a lawful activity, namely the operations of landing and departing of aircraft which persons were engaged in on that land, did an act, namely erected a temporary structure and locked themselves to it, or within it, with the intent of disrupting that activity.

The second charge alleges that they entered a security-restricted area of an aerodrome without permission.

The defendants are:

Rebecca Sanderson, 28, of Machynlleth, Powys; Richard Hawkins, 32, and Kara Lauren Moses, 31, both of Machynlleth, Powys; Ella Gilbert, 23, of Norwich; Melanie Strickland, 32, of Waltham Forest, north-east London; Danielle Paffard, 28, of Peckham, south-east London; Graham Thompson, 42, of Hackney, east London; Sheila Menon, 43, of Hackney; Cameron Kaye, 23, Edward Thacker, 26, Alistair Tamlit, 27, and Sam Sender, 23, all of West Drayton, west London; Robert Basto, 67, of Reigate, Surrey.

Plane Stupid protesters on the northern runway at Heathrow on Monday morning

Plane Stupid protesters on the northern runway at Heathrow in July  Photo: @planestupid

Prosecutor Philip McGhee said: “It was in the early hours of July 13 last year that, apparently in protest at the prospect of a third runway being built at Heathrow Airport, these 13 defendants passed through part of a perimeter fence that had been cut near to the east end of the northern runway in the airport, breaching airport security.

“They got on to the northern runway and began the demonstration by way of erection of a large tripod of poles and fencing.

“They were either inside the fencing, locked to the outside of the fencing, in one case on top of the scaffolding tripod or in other cases were secured to each other.”

Thirteen Plane Stupic activists arrive at Willesden Magistrates' Court January 18, 2016Thirteen Plane Stupid activists arrive at Willesden Magistrates’ Court on Monday  Photo: Jane Mingay/The Telegraph

Some of the defendants laughed or smiled as Mr McGhee described how Kaye was wearing a white polar bear suit and attached himself to the top of the scaffolding.

Police were forced to use “specialist cutting equipment” to free several of the defendants who had connected themselves to each other by their arms using tubes, glue and expanding foam, the court was told.

The trial continues.