Heathrow 13: Jailing peaceful protestors could “lead to more disruption” in future, experts say

The protesters who disrupted flights last summer have been told to expect jail when they are sentenced next week (24th) – the maximum jail term for their offence would be 3 months.  However, it is possible that jailing the “Heathrow 13” could encourage environmental activists to cause more damage in future protests. The reason is that academics believe a custodial sentence would inspire demonstrators to cause more damage in future – because it would remove the incentive to seek a trial by magistrate rather than trial by jury. Environmental protestors involved in peaceful direct action generally make sure they cause less than £5,000 damage. Beneath this threshold, they are likely to be tried by a magistrate – and receive a lighter sentence (not prison) than if they had been tried by a jury. But if Judge Deborah Wright does jail the Heathrow 13, activists in the future may be inclined to do what it takes to secure a jury trial. Juries are considered less likely to convict than magistrates. Dr Graeme Hayes of Aston University believes the precedent is that non-violent protestors are dealt with leniently by magistrates. If that is no longer the case, there is the risk that “some activists may decide to cause more property damage.” Professor Brian Doherty, professor of political sociology at Keele University, agreed.



Heathrow 13: Jailing peaceful protestors ‘will lead to more disruption’, experts say

The protesters who disrupted flights last summer have been told to expect jail when they are sentenced next week

By Tom Bawden Environment Editor (Independent)


Jailing the “Heathrow 13” could encourage environmental activists to cause more damage in future protests, experts have warned.

The non-violent protesters who disrupted flights at Heathrow Airport last summer have been told to expect jail when they are sentenced next week – after being convicted at Willesden Magistrates’ Court.

But academics fear that a custodial sentence would inspire demonstrators to cause more damage in future – because it would remove the incentive to seek a trial by magistrate rather than trial by jury.

Environmental protestors involved in peaceful direct action generally make sure they cause less than £5,000 damage. Beneath this threshold, they are likely to be tried by a magistrate – and receive a lighter sentence than if they had been tried by a jury.

But if Judge Deborah Wright jail the Heathrow 13 at their sentencing on 24 February, protestors in the future may be inclined to do what it takes to secure a jury trial. Juries are considered less likely to convict than magistrates.

“It’s very clear that environmental activists take decisions on what they think the outcome is going to be. They don’t stumble naively onto the North runway at Heathrow thinking ‘Oh, I wonder what’s going to happen when we get arrested’,” said Dr Graeme Hayes of Aston University who has been studying environmental protests for 25 years. [Graeme is a Reader in Political Sociology. His research focus is primarily on social movements, and on environmental sociology, and in particular the collective responses to climate change and to genetically-modified crops.]

“The Heathrow 13 are well aware of the precedent that when you’re a non-violent protestor the magistrate will deal with you leniently. But if you remove that basic understanding then the activists are much more likely to say ‘in that case we need a jury trial’ – and then comes the risk that some activists may decide to cause more property damage.”

Brian Doherty, professor of political sociology at Keele University, said he “agreed with the logic” set out by Dr Hayes that protestors may seek a jury trial in the future, if the magistrate sends the Heathrow 13 to jail.  [Professor Brian Doherty’s principal research interest is in the relationship between radical ideas and actions, particularly in environmental movements. My work has therefore covered green parties, local environmental protesters, major NGOs, and environmental direct action in Britain and other countries.

The demonstration last July saw the activists – including 68-year old atmospheric physicist Dr Rob Basto and 44-year old filmmaker Sheila Menon – cut a hole in a fence and make their way onto the north runway.




Heathrow 13: Jailing peaceful protesters would be ‘unprecedented’ attack on dissent, judge told

Campaigners warn British legal system’s long-standing tolerance towards non-violent action is under threat

By Tom Bawden Environment Editor – Independent
Tuesday 2 February 2016
A judge has been urged not to act on her threat to jail 13 peaceful environmental protesters – as campaigners warn that the British legal system’s long-standing tolerance towards non-violent direct action is under threat.

A retired atmospheric physicist with a sick 94-year old mother is among 13 peaceful protesters facing prison later this month after a judge told them to expect a custodial sentence for disrupting flights at Heathrow Airport last summer.

If the “Heathrow 13” are jailed, this would be the first time peaceful environmental protesters have gone to prison for the offence of aggravated trespass since it came into force two decades ago.

In interviews with The Independent, members of the group said they are scared by the prospect of jail time but more convinced than ever that they hold the moral high ground. Some have vowed to step up their protests after release, to keep drawing attention to the huge role air travel plays in global warming.
Heathrow 13 facing jail sentences stand on the right side of history

At 68, Dr Rob Basto is the oldest member of the group, who each face up to three months in prison when they are sentenced on February 24. Dr Basto, who lives in Reigate in Surrey, is an atmospheric physicist by training but spent most of his career as a software engineer on contract for the Wellcome Trust and Reuters.

Married to Judy for 29 years and with a 28-year-old son who also studied physics, he is particularly concerned about the impact on his family should he go to jail.

“I still feel fit and healthy and I go climbing. But I am quite apprehensive because of my family situation. My mother is ill and she’s 94,” he said. Dr Basto said he was “frightened” into protesting 15 years ago after studying research into the impact of climate change.

Danielle Paffard, 28, is a biology graduate of Oxford University who helped set up the UK Uncut tax avoidance protest group that occupied branches of Top Shop and Vodafone. She also faces a jail sentence for her part in the Heathrow action.

“I was very shocked by the judge’s comments. It was really galling to hear her say she understands the serious impact of climate change – but that we made some people late and that’s unacceptable,” said Ms Paffard, who grew up in the Nottinghamshire countryside with her mother, a psychiatrist, and father, who works in the NHS.

Ten of the Heathrow 13 have no previous convictions, while three have been convicted of aggravated trespass before.

Ella Gilbert, who recently finished an MA in climate change at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, added: “It is a bit of a shock, but I have absolutely no regrets or reservations about it. I think we’re standing up and making a difference by contributing to a wider discourse and actually stopping emissions from aviation.”

Campaigners were astonished last week at Willesden Magistrates’ Court last week as District Judge Deborah Wright found the protesters guilty of aggravated trespass and said she planned to jail them.

She paid tribute to the demonstrators for their passion about the environment – saying “They are all principled people” – before telling them custodial sentences were “almost inevitable”.

The Heathrow protest – part of the long-running Plane Stupid campaign to end airport expansion – saw the group cut a hole in a fence and making their way on to the north runway. The demonstration at around 3.30am on the morning of Monday July 13 forced the cancellation of 25 flights.

“It does feel harsh to send us to prison for a peaceful, non-violent direct action,” said 44-year old Sheila Menon, a London-based filmmaker and environmental campaigner.

Mike Schwarz, a lawyer from Bindmans who is representing nine of the Heathrow 13, said: “A custodial sentence would be excessive and wrong because there is a long history of recognition by senior judges that an allowance should be made on sentencing for peaceful protests of public importance.”

Paul Heron, from the Public Interest Lawyers legal firm, added: “For first time offenders, particularly because they not only alerted the authorities and acted in a peaceful way, it would seem harsh to attract a custodial sentence.” Mr Heron is not involved in the case and was speaking in a personal capacity.

Dr Graeme Hayes, a reader in political society at Aston University, who has been researching environmental protests for 25 years, said: “It would be unprecedented in modern times – for an environmental activist to be imprisoned for a peaceful, non-violent protest which the judge recognises as being conducted with honesty, sincerity and integrity.”





From NetPol  https://netpol.org/law-and-occupations/#8

Information on what aggravated trespass is etc.


Occupations generally involve entering private premises without permission, and this usually means you are trespassing.

Even if you enter the site with permission – as a customer, say – that permission can be withdrawn if you become involved in the protest, and you may be asked to leave.

Trespass itself IS NOT a criminal offence, although it can become one if you interfere with the ‘lawful business’ taking place on the site (see Aggravated trespass below). You cannot be arrested for trespass, and committing trespass DOES NOT give you a criminal record.

Security guards

Because you have entered private property without permission, security guards or doormen CAN use reasonable force to remove you, IF it is necessary to prevent harm to others on the premises or to prevent damage to property. However, if security guards use excessive or unnecessary force, they may be committing an assault. It is unusual for the police to arrest security personnel for assault, but if you feel you have been assaulted by security guards you might wish to take legal advice on making a civil claim for damages.

Depending on the situation, security guards may call the police rather than attempt to remove you themselves, especially if there are a lot of you.

Once it is clear that a protest or occupation is taking place, security will probably try to stop anyone else from coming in. Any use of force against security guards – trying to push past them, for instance – could be assault, and they would then have the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves.


Police, and especially security guards, can sometimes get very agitated about people taking photographs of them. Generally speaking, there is no law against taking photographs in private premises such as shopping malls or shops . Some malls and department stores make it a ‘condition of entry’ that you don’t take photos, in which case taking a photograph might make you a trespasser. But you would still not be committing a criminal offence.

There are laws of harassment and breach of privacy which can apply to photography, but it is very unlikely that these will apply if you are simply taking photographs in the course of an occupation.
Neither security guards or police have the power to assault you for taking a photograph, or to delete images. The police have the right to seize a camera in certain restricted circumstances where it is necessary to secure evidence of an offence, but this is rarely used.


Companies who are the target of an occupation will often call the police. The presence of the police does not necessarily mean that they are going to make arrests.
The police may start by trying to find out how long you intend to be in occupation, and whether any criminal damage has been caused. They will probably also talk to the owners / managers of the building, and find out what their attitude towards it is.

If you make it clear that it is a short term occupation – half an hour for instance – they may well decide that they are happy to let you leave in your own time. However, if the business is determined to prosecute, or you look likely to continue the occupation for a long period of time, the police may be more likely to make arrests. By far the most likely reason for arrest in an occupation is aggravated trespass, but there are others.

Beware ‘intelligence gathering’ by police in these situations. They may want to know the names of those involved, especially the organisers. This information will be entered onto a police database, and it is usually best to avoid giving any personal details or information to the police.

Use of force

The police can use ‘reasonable force’ to remove you from the premises or arrest you if they believe you are committing aggravated trespass (or any other offence). Force used must be the ‘minimum necessary’.

Locking on

Protesters sometimes use bike locks, or superglue to attach themselves to something on the site, to make it more difficult for the police to remove them. This is not unlawful in itself, but may make it more likely that you are arrested for aggravated trespass. If the ‘lock-on’ causes damage to anything, you may also be arrested for criminal damage.


Being arrested on an occupation does not mean that you will be prosecuted. This can depend largely on the attitude of the company or organisation you have occupied. Some may have a policy of prosecuting all protesters, but there are a number of reasons a company might not want to do this. They may not want the publicity or may be worried about loss of public support or custom.

Also, being prosecuted does not mean you will be convicted. The law is sometimes very grey, and a good lawyer can make all the difference.


Aggravated trespass

Unlike just common trespass, aggravated trespass is a criminal offence . To secure a conviction the police must first show that there was a ‘further act’ ,(DPP v Barnard) beyond mere trespassing. This ‘further act’ can be anything – playing music, putting up a banner, anything at all. Secondly, the police must show that this further act was intended to ‘deter, disrupt or obstruct’ the lawful business taking place.

There is no aggravated trespass if any disruption or obstruction is accidental.

It is a defence to claim that any disruption you caused was accidental and not intended, although magistrates may take the view that turning up with a load of people and banners does show you may have intended some level of disruption.

It is also a defence to show that the activity you are disrupting is unlawful. This is not easy to do, and you may be expected to provide substantial evidence of the law-breaking. Case law says there must be more than a “bare assertion” . You will also need to show that you have tried all other routes, where possible, to voice your concerns at the ‘illegal activity’ before taking action.

Aggravated trespass is a minor offence, dealt with by the magistrates court. The penalty at present is a maximum of three months imprisonment or a fine. It is very unusual for people to be imprisoned for aggravated trespass, and first time offenders are often given a conditional discharge – meaning that no further action is taken if you don’t repeat the offence.

Refusing to leave

The police can order you to leave if they believe you are committing or intend to commit aggravated trespass . If you refuse to leave then you are committing an offence, and can be arrested. The penalty if convicted is the same as for aggravated trespass.

Breach of the peace

In some occupations the police have reacted by making arrests to prevent a breach of the peace. In England and Wales, this is merely a power the police have to remove you from a place and detain you until the risk of a ‘breach of the peace’ is past. It does not give you a criminal record, or result in any criminal charges.

Nevertheless the police can only lawfully arrest for breach of the peace in very limited situations. They must have a ‘reasonable belief’ that there is an imminent risk of harm being done to someone, (or, in his presence, to his property). The police do not always keep to this definition, and if anyone is arrested in circumstances where there was no risk of harm, they should consider taking civil action for unlawful arrest.

In Scotland the situation is completely different, as there is an actual offence of ‘breach of the peace’, for which you can be prosecuted. It is a minor charge similar in some ways to s5 Public Order Act. You can be arrested if your conduct is ‘alarming and disturbing to a reasonable person’. Like s5 offences, it is horrendously wide ranging.

Public Order Act offences

It is possible that the police may seek to arrest for the more minor public order act offences.

S5 Public Order Act is a ‘catch all’ offence which criminalises any behaviour (including in writing, e.g. a banner) which is likely to cause ‘alarm, harassment or distress’ to any individual.

S4 Public Order Act covers conduct intended to cause alarm, harassment or distress, or which causes fear or provocation of violence.

It is highly unlikely that merely being part of an occupation would make you guilty of these offences. If you are arrested, don’t panic, get legal advice, and be aware of your right to make no comment to all questions including during an interview.

Criminal Damage

If you have damaged anything on the premises you may be arrested for criminal damage. The definition of damage is pretty wide, and includes damage that is ‘not visible or tangible’ according to the CPS. Even very minor damage has been used by police as an excuse to arrest, although it is less likely to result in a conviction in court.

You don’t have to have intended to damage something – it is enough if you have been ‘reckless’.

The police have to prove that it was you who caused the damage -, and that the damage wasn’t just an accident, although bear in mind ‘reckless’ behaviour.

It is a defence if you can show you had a ‘lawful excuse’, that you believed it was reasonable to commit the criminal damage in order to protect property that was in immediate need of protection.
Be warned – this is not an easy defence to run!

Damage of less than £5,000 is dealt with by the magistrates court. The maximum penalty is three months imprisonment or a fine. Sentences vary, but minor damage will normally result in a fine or conditional discharge.

…… and there is more ….. at  https://netpol.org/law-and-occupations/#8