Reflections on sentencing

On the 24th of February, we - the Heathrow 13 - were sentenced to 6 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, with an additional 120 to 180 hours community service on top. Whilst we are happy to not be in prison right now, this is far from a complete victory.

As our barrister  QC Kirsty Brimelow, so eloquently argued, there is a long tradition of direct action in the UK, and a convention for sentencing within the legal system. In fact Lord Hoffman, in an influential ruling, went as far as to say that it is the mark of a civilised society to accommodate this, and that the legal convention is for sentences such as a conditional discharge or community service. In this light, our barristers argued that our action clearly did not cross the custodial threshold – i.e. our sentence should not be imprisonment, immediate or suspended. The fact that Judge Wright chose to give us a suspended sentence marks a shift in the way protesters are treated, going against the normal convention. 

Experts have suggested that if magistrates impose custody for minor offences, that produces an incentive for activists to commit more serious offences. This is because more serious crimes are dealt with by a jury, who are more likely to be understanding of the issues. Whilst more radical actions are welcome, and in fact are necessary to tackle the scale of climate change, repression from the judicial system is not.

As we went into court on the 24th, all of us were prepared for the possibility for prison. We all experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, from fear and stress to defiance and pride. The support and love we were shown by family, friends and the wider movement made us feel all the more ready to deal with a potential prison sentence. Had we gone to prison, we would have depended on this support network around us. We all feel so grateful for this.

Yet, we should reflect on this as a form of privilege. There are over 85,000 people in prison in the UK, not including immigration detention centres, secure children's homes or those detained under the Mental Health Act. Those imprisoned are disproportionately from poor, minority backgrounds and are likely to have suffered various forms of abuse in their lives. Vulnerable people are the ones being targeted by the judicial system. These people are highly unlikely to be able to gain the same kind of support a high profile privileged group such as ours could.

That's not to say, however, that these groups of people are mere passive 'victims'. Take for instance, the recent, horrific case of Sarah ReedShe was a Black woman who was subject to multiple failings by the police, who wrongfully arrested her twice, once beating her whilst doing so, and by the mental health services, who failed to care for or protect her. She went on to die in Holloway prison (where the females of the Heathrow 13 would have been likely to have been sent). As well as dealing with the grief of this horrific treatment, Sarah Reed's family are campaigning for justice, along with the families of many of the other 827 people who following contact with the police between 2004 and 2013, and those fighting under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter. What we have been threatened with, thousands more suffer from and much worse. Our briefest of experience of this shows the importance of solidarity between different but connected campaigns.

And these issues are connected in many ways from their root causes, to the people who are affected most. For it is not only poor communities, Black and brown people and women who are treated worst by the justice system, but these are the same groups, who on a global level, are worst affected by climate change.

So, we the Heathrow 13 are free to fight another day (so long as we aren't arrested in the next 12 months), but many others are not. We should use this briefest of experiences to build solidarity with different affected groups from #BlackLivesMatter in the UK to those fighting airports in Istanbul and Atenco.

For only by trying to understand the world, and the listening to the experiences of those we wish to fight alongside, can we hope to change it for the better.

#Heathrow13: Join the fightback

UPDATE: Great news, the Heathrow 13 didn't go to jail, so we're saving the flash mob at Heathrow for another day. As such you can have your Saturday morning back, or perhaps you'd like to go along to the Stop Trident demo instead? If so there is an Arms to Renewables Climate bloc you can join

13 Plane Stupid activists have been spared jail today for protesting against new runways that would cause climate chaos.

This is a huge relief for the activists and their families, and a massive boost for the movement to stop airport expansion. The court's U-turn over a prison sentence is a vindication of the right to peaceful protest.

At a time when we need to be cutting emissions rapidly, the Government is planning new runways to massively increase them. And to get away with it, it's trying to shut climate change out of the debate.

Can you help carry on what the Heathrow13 have started?

It's because of people power that we don't have a third runway now. People power will stop new runways again. We're in it for the long haul. No ifs, no buts.

Here are a few ways you can stand with the #Heathrow13

1. Take back the media

Those pushing for new runways are trying to keep climate change out of the debate. They hope harsh sentences will help shut that conversation down. But we can stop them.

Here’s how:

Visit Heathrow’s Facebook page and leave polite comments and replies on their latest posts. You can also leave a one star review along with a comment.

We think it’s always stronger if you use your own words, but if you’re not sure what to say we’ve prepared some talking points below to help you write your message:

  • Prince Charles has said that drought linked to climate change is a 'major reason' for 4 million Syrians becoming refugees - those 4 million need emissions cuts now, not new runways. I support the #Heathrow13.
  • At a time when we urgently need to be cutting emissions rapidly, why are you planning a new runway to massively increase them? I support the #Heathrow13.
  • Heathrow’s emissions aren’t just a threat to polar bears. They are killing people now, and another runway will hugely increase that death toll. I support the #Heathrow13.
  • A third runway at Heathrow will exacerbate the air pollution crisis that’s already costing thousands of lives every year. I support the #Heathrow13.
  • The aviation industry is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. How can we take meaningful action to prevent catastrophic climate change while it continues to expand? I support the #Heathrow13.

Leave a Google Review. Google Heathrow Airport, and leave a polite one star review letting them know what you think of new runways. Again you can use your own words or the talking points. Like and rate other activists' reviews - this will make our message go further.

Done those and have some more time? Great! Here are some more ways we can get our message across on social media:

On Twitter:  Click here to tweet Heathrow Airport.

If you’d prefer to use your own wording, just tweet at @HeathrowAirport - again you might find the talking points helpful - and use #heathrowcommunity and #hexupdates.

You can also reply to @HeathrowAirport’s tweets and use #heathrow and #takingbritainfurther.

On Instagram: Use #heathrowairport and comment on posts by @heathrow_airport.

On Google+: Use #heathrowairport and comment on posts at the Heathrow page.

On Yelp: Leave a polite one-star review at their Yelp page

On YouTube: Comment on LHRHeathrow's videos and at youtube.com/user/LHRHeathrow/discussion

 

2. Sign & share the petition

Join us in asking David Cameron to stick to his "No if, No buts" promise and pledge to reject any new runways, at Heathrow or elsewhere.

 

3. Show solidarity with La ZAD's mobilisation on Saturday 27th February

 

4. Join the Groundswell year of action for climate justice

If we want real social change, that means taking bold, effective direct action. Reclaim The Power will provide 'out of the box actions', ideas for tools and sites of action, support and training for anyone who wants to build their confidence gradually or save time on action planning.

The Reclaim the Power website will soon have a secure media sharing platform developed for the purpose, which will update participants about others' regular actions, providing inspiration and motivation to work together.

Now the dust from the Paris conference has settled, it’s time to set ourselves a challenge: can we do more for climate justice in one year than UN COP negotiators have achieved in the last twenty one? Get involved by ringing or emailing Reclaim the Power.

 

5. Share the video

 

Finally, why not reward yourself and come to Grow Heathrow's 6th birthday party from 4th to 6th March?

Thank you for standing with the Heathrow 13 and saying no to climate-wrecking new runways. Together we can expose who is really guilty here.

Mystery Heathrow 13 supporters stick it to the bill

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This weekend posters in support of the #Heathrow13 have mysteriously popped up in bus shelters across London. The artwork are made up of designs by campaigners, including Wretched of the Earth. The posters criticise plans for airport expansion and advertise the upcoming court solidarity demonstration for the Heathrow 13 sentencing at Willesden Magistrates Court on Wednesday 24th at 9am.

The 13 people were found guilty last month of aggravated trespass and being on a runway without permission after they closed the northern runway last July in opposition to airport expansion. Hundreds are expected to gather for the solidarity demonstration where the 13 have been told by district judge Deborah Wright “to expect an immediate custodial sentence”.

One of the posters reads “Imperialist History Is Repeating Itself. No to Co2lonialism, No to new runways”, whilst another focuses on the links between climate change and migration, emphasising the plight of climate refugees with a take on an ‘Emirates’ airlines advert with the logo altered to say ‘Emigrate’ with the hashtag #NoBorders.

The artworks were placed in the cases without permission and although the identity of the mysterious poster installers is unknown, it shares many of the attributes of the anti-advertising art group Brandalism, "a revolt against corporate control of the visual realm". Since 2012 there have been take overs of advertising in public spaces in over ten UK cities as well as in Paris during the climate talks last year, where hundreds of posters mysteriously appeared.

See if you can spot one of the posters around town before the authorities find them and take them down. But in case you miss them, here are a few that we've seen.

Sentencing & demonstration: Wed 24th Feb, 9am

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The #Heathrow13 will return to court for final sentencing, having all been found guilty of aggravated trespass and entering the security restricted area of London Heathrow Airport’s north runway. All 13 have been told by District Judge Deborah Wright that they "should all come expecting custodial sentences”.

Please come and join us outside the court at 9am sharp, together with Heathrow residents and others, to say that climate justice is the only appropriate form of justice here, and that we need to Stop Aviation Expansion & Stop Co2lonialism! Wear red clothing to show that
that prison time for protecting the climate is a #Redline. Sentencing is expected to take 1 to 2 hours.

The full address for the court is:
Willesden Magistrates’ Court
448 High Road
London
NW10 2DZ
Nearest tube: Neasden or Dollis Hill (Jubilee Line)

For the latest info see the Facebook event.

No one will be allowed to stand in the public gallery - only to occupy the 26 seats which will be ticketed, following a letter from the court. These tickets will mostly go to family of the defendants. After the judge told the defendants to prepare for prison, people in the public gallery had shouted out, "shame on you", "this is a farce" and "history will judge". The letter says the new restriction is due to "a potential risk to health and safety". The court has also said "access to the concourse of Willesden Magistrates Court will not be permitted to anyone not in possession of a ticket [except] press" because "on the last occasion there was a great deal of noise". There had been clapping and cheering after the defendants left the courtroom.

Speakers will include MPs, residents who would lose their homes to new runways, environmental activists and voices working with communities on the front line of climate change, floods and drought. Why not print off a picture of David Cameron's face and tie some elastic to it for a mask? After all, he opposes new runways at Heathrow, 'no ifs, no buts'.

Separately, the trial for the three activists who blockaded Heathrow's road entrance tunnel will be on Tue 19th and Wed 20th April at Willesden Magistrates Court. Start time is 10am - arrive by 9.30 for a bag check. They pleaded not guilty to a charge of breaching a specific Heathrow Airport byelaw: obstructing a tunnel/tunnel access road at Heathrow Airport. This carries a maximum sentence of a fine.

Judgment Day

Verdict? Innocent

Legal verdict? Guilty.

As we prepare ourselves for the likelihood of an unusually harsh sentence on February 24th  - the Judge told us to prepare for prison, and implied it could be the maximum of 3 months - we sit reeling from the institutional failure of the legal system to address the biggest and deadliest problem of our time.

A guilty verdict may have been a forgone conclusion in the eyes of the law, but today has been an extraordinary day for climate change activists the world over.

The issue of climate change, its connection to the aviation industry, and its resultant massive loss of life have not once been disputed in the proceedings of the trial. In her closing remarks, Judge Wright said: “There can be no doubt that the defendants are very committed to tackling the problems of climate change and that they acted as they did on the 13th July in what they genuinely believed was in the best interests of the public and society as a whole”. She called us “principled” and “passionate” people.  She accepted that climate change was a problem and that we were doing what we could to stop carbon emissions.

This acceptance, however, appears to have had no bearing whatsoever on the verdict we have received, and the sentencing we now face. After warning us to prepare for prison, the judge said 'I cannot think of a more serious case of aggravated trespass', implying that she may give the maximum, which is 3 months inside for our charge (aggravated trespass). If we had been taken to court for more serious charges (eg, public nuisance, which we arrested for), we could have had a trial by jury. Unlike judges, juries have previously found people not guilty for similar actions.

With his opening statement this morning, the prosecution lawyer attempted to paint us as crusaders against democracy, taking the law into our own hands and seeking a defence based on “criminal self-help” rather than necessity.  His summation ran into the following confusing circularity: “sober and reasonable people don’t break the law”, and “it is my job to decide whether a sober and reasonable person would have broken the law in these circumstances.”  Well, no surprises then when he decided that they wouldn’t have. But that was a forgone conclusion. A system that defines reasonableness as following the law can’t acknowledge the possibility of a reasonable breach. 

 Defence lawyer, Mr Greenhall, put it well when he said (I paraphrase):

Suppose our small group had just learned that Chernobyl was about explode, Madam, and had tried to do something to prevent the inevitable and catastrophic impact on human life.  Suppose our group felt compelled to act, and that they decided to chain themselves to the reactor in an attempt to physically prevent further leakage and future explosion.  This group would have had both the support of the public, in whose interest they were acting, and also the support of the law. Even if the deaths from Chernobyl were somewhat removed in both space and time; even if they could not name the people who would be affected; even if the group had waved banners warning about the dangers of future expansion of the plant, the necessity defence would have been open to them, and they would have won. Their actions would be reasonable to prevent loss of life. The #Heathrow13 find themselves in a very similar situation. And this is the defence that should prevail today.

 Unfortunately, it has not prevailed.

When Lawyer Mr Chada ended his statement with some words from Robert Kennedy, the Judge was still to announce her decision.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and, daring those ripples, build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 

These words feel all the more powerful now the verdict has been made.

Climate change has already claimed many lives, and it is the continued negligence of governance that forces citizens to act in their stead. We are not hooligans. We are not heroes. We are ordinary people who acted against the letter of the law in the face of complete failure of the authorities to act in the service of what we, and many, many others, know to be the major issue we face today.