Heathrow runway protesters 'people of real conscience who care about the planet'

John McDonnell Speaks at Rally as 'Heathrow 13' Protesters in Court

The 13 climate change activists who caused 25 flights to be cancelled and triggered "immense" financial costs with a runway protest at Heathrow Airport have been described in court as "people of real conscience who care about the planet".

Some of the protesters - dubbed the Heathrow 13 - had to sit in front of the dock at London's Willesden Magistrates' Court which was packed with co-defendants.

They are awaiting sentence after having been found guilty of aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted area of an aerodrome with a July 2015 protest at the UK's largest airport.

Kirsty Brimelow QC, representing four of the defendants, told the court "there is a range of in-depth, genuine and excellent testimonies" in support of them from people including Downton Abbey and The Royle Family actress Sue Johnston.

In mitigation, she said: "These are people who are professional. They are qualified and highly educated.

"They have references from a high court judge, barristers, the MP John McDonnell and the actress Sue Johnston."

District Judge Deborah Wright said her understanding was that "immense" costs had been caused by the protest which saw the demonstrators chain themselves to railings and force the cancellation of 25 flights.

Prosecutor Robert Short said prosecution costs were running at about £14,000.

The protest at around 3.30am on July 13 2015 was part of the long-running Plane Stupid campaign to end airport expansion.

The group cut a hole in a fence and made their way on to the north runway.

Having managed to get into the restricted "airside" area of Heathrow Airport, they erected a tripod and chained themselves to some fencing on the runway.

It took six hours before the last of the activists were removed.

Ms Brimelow looked back to the Suffragettes and said the 13 had carried out an act of civil disobedience because they believed they were " acting in the public interest".

They felt that "all other avenues had been exhausted" in the fight to cut carbon emissions.

Arguing against a prison sentence, Ms Brimelow said this country had a "hard-fought for" tradition regarding civil disobedience.

She told the court: "We have come a long way since the days of the Suffragettes, since those people would have been locked up and treated appallingly."

Ms Brimelow also pointed out that the last time anyone had been jailed for a direct action protest was in 1932 following a mass trespass of the Moors. This was held because the land was shut to the public by the gentry.

Ms Brimelow said the 13 had acted on "deeply-held beliefs" and as "people of real conscience who care about the planet".

Among those who have been convicted are Danielle Paffard, 28, of Blenheim Grove, Peckham, south-east London; Rebecca Sanderson, 28, of Newton Road, Machynlleth, Powys; Richard Hawkins, 33, and Kara Moses, 32, both of Heoly Doll, Machynlleth, Powys; Ella Gilbert, 23, of Magdalen Street, Norwich; Melanie Strickland, 32, of Borwick Avenue, Waltham Forest, north-east London; Graham Thompson, 42, of Durlston Road, Hackney, north-east London; Sheila Menon, 44, of Pellerin Road, Hackney; Cameron Kaye, 23, Edward Thacker, 26, Alistair Tamlit, 27, and Sam Sender, 23, all of Kenwood Close, Sipson, West Drayton, west London, and Robert Basto, 67, of Blackborough Road, Reigate, Surrey.