Manchester airport protesters claim lawful excuse as climate trial begins

The trial of six climate protesters who breached airside security at Manchester Airport began today at Trafford Magistrates Court. The defendants will argue that they acted to prevent death and serious injury by stopping emissions from the airport, a plea which echoes the defence of Greenpeace campaigners acquitted of closing down Kingsnorth Power Station. During the trial, which is expected to last three to four days, the defence will call expert witnesses including Professor Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre who is speaking today in court, and experts on health and the effects of climate change.

The trial begins ten years after Manchester Airport opened their second runway in February 2001, following some of the largest environmental protests of the 1990's. The six defendants will plead not guilty to the charge of aggravated trespass after they formed a human circle around the wheel of a Monarch Airline jet last May 2010.

In November 2009 the airport received planning approval to expand the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport, which will result in the demolition of local homes. Although the coalition government cancelled plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, campaigners are now focussing there action more regionally as capacity is now being increased at regional airports instead.

People from across North England have pledged to take direct action to stop the expansion plans. The threatened homes in Manchester have 'twinned' with the village of Sipson which would have been demolished to make way for the Heathrow expansion. Witnesses for the defence at the trial will include a local Lib Dem Councillor and John McDonnell, the Labour MP for the Heathrow area.

Supporters of the 'Manchester Airport on Trial' group gathered outside court this morning with a large paper aeroplane. The mock paper plane was made from a March 2010 High Court Ruling, stating that the airport expansion plans are incompatible with the Climate Act 2008. 

Kerry Williams, speaking outside court from the 'Manchester Airport on Trial' group said:

The trial started with a huge show of support showing that people aren't willing to be bullied by airports and government greed in the face of runaway climate change. It's not OK for the aviation industry to be a special case whilst avoiding paying taxes, creating more emissions and more noise. In an age of austerity we need to continue taking direct action to protect people, the climate and not the aviation industry. "

Jo Rake, Heathrow resident and climate campaigner made the journey up to Manchester and said:

By 2050 Manchester Airport plans to be as busy as Heathrow is today, becoming 'the Heathrow of the North' with flights every 70 seconds. We showed the success of people power to scrap the third runway at Heathrow and so we can't let the flights be transferred to Manchester Airport instead. We cannot allow a climate catastrophe and the demolition of family homes at Hasty Lane. If we can win at Heathrow, we can win in Manchester too.”

The defendants have received a number of statements of support from national politicians, journalists, lawyers, organisations and individuals including Zac Goldsmith MP, Caroline Lucas MP and John Sauven, director of Greenpeace.

For updates follow the Manchester Airport on Trial Twitter feed.


Manchester Plane Stupid vow to fight on

Two Manchester Plane Stupid activists who blockaded the road entrance to the World Freight Centre of Manchester Airport have been found guilty of obstruction of the highway. The group remain united and have vowed to continue the fight against the aviation industry.

The two defendants, Mark Howarth and Amanda Walters, had pleaded not guilty to the charge on the grounds that their obstruction of the highway was a reasonable use of the road considering the significant impacts on local homes and globally in contributing to climate change - caused by the proposed expansion of the airport. The court heard how the defendants had tried other means of redress prior to the protest action in May 2010 but that these methods had been ineffective as of yet in halting airport expansion.

On Monday, nine other defendants involved in the protests pleaded guilty and received fines and costs averaging around £340 each.

Speaking after the case, defendant Mark Howarth said:

"The battle against airport expansion at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick was won because ordinary people came together, joined forces and took on the aviation industry. We've linked up with residents in Manchester and Heathrow and we'll continue to challenge Manchester Airport's expansion plans".

The public campaign 'Manchester Airport on Trial' lives on and the defendants have received support from all kinds of different people and communities including support from Independent journalist Johann Hari, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour MP John Mcdonnell and Conservative Party MP Zac Goldsmith. The 6 who went airside and used armtube lock ons round the wheel of a plane will stand trial seperately for aggravated trespass in Feburary 2011.

Day one of Manchester Airport on trial

There was a huge show of support for defendants at Trafford Magistrates Court this morning for the opening day of Manchester Airport on Trial.

Despite freezing temperatures people from all walks of life came down to the courthouse to wish them well. Pete Johnson one of the residents whose home faces demolition joined the supporters and defendants outside the courthouse with colourful banners. The case has galvanised support from a broad range of supporters from local members of the public, local groups, academics, barristers, writer and journalist for the Independent Johann Hari, and prominent national politicians such as Heathrow Labour MP John McDonnell, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Conservative Party MP Zac Goldsmith.

Eleven local campaigners were in court facing charges of obstruction of the highway. Nine of the eleven pleaded guilty unable to bear the cost of a trial and were sentenced at 1pm today. The court heard now the protest had been a 'response to a flawed planning process' and the 'democratic process being thwarted'. The judge handed out fines of an average £300 each before opening the prosecution.

Ali Garrigan, from Manchester Plane Stupid said:

"Today the defendants have taken responsibility for the protest, been accountable for their actions and will pay their fines. Meanwhile, Manchester City Council refuses to take responsibility for the emissions from the airport by excluding them from its Climate Change Action Plan and the aviation industry gets a free ride by paying no tax on it fuel."

The trial continues tomorrow and is set to be an interesting day. Amanda Walters and Mark Howarth, the two defendants pleading not guilty, will be asked to tell the court what effects the expansion of the airport will have both locally, such as on the residents at Hasty Lane, as well as internationally in terms of CO2 emissions and climate change.

Local councillor Martin Eakins will also be speaking to highlight the local democratic deficit and resident Pete Johnson from Hasty Lane will talk about the threat to local homes.

For daily updates check out

From the court of the public into the court of the law


CtrlAltShift Blog #4 - Recent campaigns at Heathrow and Aberdeen have seen climate activists learn a new set of skills and take their concerns about aviation emissions to the law courts. Plane Stupid activist Howard Balmer explains why ...

To engage with the court of law does not necessarily represent a strategic departure from engaging "the court of the public", but it can simply add another opportunity to the modern campaigners repertoire. Many actions taken by climate activists over recent years have primarily been seen as attempts to court public opinion through positive media coverage. That's what some people seem to believe anyway...

However, we know from experience that this fickle medium is just as likely to damn you as it is to celebrate your cause. Many activists want nothing to do with this aspect of the public arena and are motivated by a desire to actually reduce emissions through their actions. Shutting down an airport can actually stop the kerosene burning.

The longer an airport stays shut the more significant become the reductions in both carbon and profit for the aviation industry. When faced with the crucial need for immediate climate mitigation this has a very real benefit and is a prime motivator.

If positive media coverage leads to discussion and support then so be it, but this remains additional. Many of us do see to engage with the public arena, but at a grass-roots level; which means sharing skills, resources and experience with communities who share our concerns.

Such direct engagement has proved highly effective in helping to galvanise community campaigns across the UK and with particular significance at Heathrow where the No Third Runway campaign has been part of a broad movement involving Transition Heathrow and HACAN amongst others.

The Grow Heathrow initative has diversified to look at local food production, working with residents to rejuvenate a former-market garden shifting 30 tonnes of rubbish, growing seasonal food and hosting permaculture workshops.

The law courts present a different challenge, but one that we are quite capable of rising to. In March, Lord Justice Carnwath's ruling left the Government's aviation policy in tatters when he pointed out that the decision to build a flagship third runway at Heathrow was outdated and did not take account of the latest developments in climate change policy.

In June, the Climate 9 kept up the momentum in the Scottish courts when defending their decision to shut down Aberdeen airport. These follow the acquittal of the Kingsnorth 6 in 2008 on the grounds that they had a lawful excuse for their actions; namely that they were acting to protect property threatened by climate impacts caused by the burning of coal.

I cannot see that court appearances will ever be an activists main aim; after all, legal proceedings require that you don a suit or posh frock and may have to pay a hefty fine or serve time. However we are prepared to engage with whoever we must in order to create sustainable alternatives to greed of the fossil fuel culture.

Manchester airport protestors appear in Magistrates court

Six Manchester residents from the group Manchester Plane Stupid pleaded not guilty to their charge of aggravated trespass. They claim that in the light of Manchester airports contribution to runaway climate change, it was the necessary action to take. The trial will take place on Feburary 21st 2011 and will be the first climate change trial of its kind in Manchester, where expert scientists from around the world will defend the six against the polluting activities of Manchester airport.

On 24th May 2010, the six heroes created a human circle around a stationary plane in order to keep it grounded - using arm tube lock-ons. The six were challenging the World Freight Terminal expansion plans which will involve the demolition of historic homes on Hasty Lane.

Manchester airport faces increased scrutiny for wanting to increase airport capacity, whilst aviation expansion continues to be incompatible with climate change targets across the UK. Following the groundbreaking decisions to stop expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, the aviation industry is now looking to regional airports such as Manchester to increase profits. The environmental and social impact of Manchester airport will further be in the spotlight during the trial as all the local councillors around the airport had their unanimous objection to expansion overturned by the Manchester Council Planning Committee in November 2009.

Penny Woodson from local campaign group Manchester Climate Action said:

"Despite the threat of climate change, Manchester Airport wants to demolish local people's homes to expand flight numbers and increase emissions. The public are facing VAT rises this January yet the aviation industry pays no VAT at all. With all these injustices stacking up, direct action is necessary."

Another group who simultaneously used tripods to blockade the World Freight Terminal, preventing airfreighted goods from being taken in and out, have been charged with obstruction of the highway. Those defendants have already pleaded guilty and will stand trial on December 6th 2010.