A former UEA student has been found guilty of aggravated trespass at Willesden Magistrates’ Court after cutting through the perimeter fence of Heathrow airport and occupying a section of the runway in the early hours of 13th July last year. Ella Gilbert, who participated in last summer’s stunt with 12 other members of Plane Stupid, a environmental protest group known for direct action, has been ordered to return to court for sentencing on 24th February.
Summing up, District Judge Deborah Wright said the cost of the disruption caused by the anti airport-expansion protest was “absolutely astronomical”. In all, 25 flights were cancelled and 90,000 people were affected. A police operation lasting over seven hours was needed in order to remove the protestors, who had chained themselves together. Wright indicated that they could have to pay compensation for the disruption, and that they will likely face a custodial sentence of three months.
The 13 protestors admitted to trespass, but pleaded not guilty at a hearing on 19th August on the grounds that the life-threatening consequences of climate change forced their decision to act. They have received considerable support from Heathrow residents, the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, as well as from the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, whose constituency covers the airport.
Writing yesterday on the Greenpeace website, Gilbert said that the decision to build a third runway was “is evidently a political one, with little consideration of the environmental impacts or necessity for more runways… We took action because we saw that it was sorely needed. When laws are unjust, ordinary people must take action to change them… We acted to minimise the climate impacts of a hugely polluting industry”.
She added that the judge, whom she said was “considerably more sympathetic than I think any of us anticipated”, commented that the protestors had “already won” the moral argument.
Speaking after her conviction, Gilbert said “We’ve been made an example of, and history will vindicate us. All the most principled people I respect have done time for the things they believe in. Solidarity forever”.