Climate activists found guilty

Article published: Wednesday, February 23rd 2011

Trafford Magistrates Court yesterday delivered a guilty verdict against protestors who forced Manchester Airport to temporarily close last year as part of a protest against airport expansion and aviation emissions. The judge told the court that the trial “should not be a debate about climate change.”

In the second day of the trial the court heard from a local politician who spoke of the local democratic deficit, while a resident whose house is due to be demolished to allow for expansion of the airport told of how he felt “cheated by the process of a so-called democracy.”

All six defendants were found guilty of aggravated trespass and forced to pay prosecution costs. Five were given conditional discharge and a sixth sentenced to 80 hours of community service over 12 months.

The court had earlier heard how on 24 May 2010 the group breached a perimeter fence before forming a ‘human chain’ around the nosewheel of a civil aircraft with 252 passengers bound for Egypt, forcing the airport to close for 30 minutes before their removal. The facts were not disputed.

Delivering the judgement Justice Taff told the court that the trial “should not be a debate about climate change … [and] whether or if weather patterns are changing.” He said that contrary to their stated intention of stopping a plane and thereby reducing carbon emissions, the defendants’ actions “were designed to attract publicity to the cause [against] the expansion of Manchester Airport.” Several of the defendants had previously campaigned on the issue.

The defence argued that their actions were necessary to prevent imminent risk of death and serious injury caused by the effects of climate change contributed to by carbon emissions. Dismissing this Justice Taff found that “in this case the connection is remote and tenuous.” He remarked that in reality their actions caused more emissions as planes were diverted and airline companies decided to use more fuel in order not to fall behind schedules.

The judge added that other routes opposing expansion of the airport, such as legal challenge by judicial review, had not been exhausted. Earlier the court had heard how residents and campaign groups were unable to front the estimated £20,000 cost of such proceedings and advised to drop the case.

A photograph from the action on 24 May 2010

Over the two day trial the court heard from several scientists called by the defence as expert witnesses who spoke about the ‘catastrophic’ and imminent dangers to the environment and human life posed by climate change.

On the second and final day of the trial Dr Robin Stott, a medical doctor and specialist on the impact of climate change on public health, described a World Health Organisation (WHO) figure of 150,000 deaths a year due to climate change as “a conservative estimate.” In response to the prosecution’s claim that there was debate on the subject he said: “Yes, mainly about how bad the effects [of climate change] will be.”

Asked whether he used the term “unimaginably catastrophic” lightly in a report describing the collapse of habitats, he replied: “No, I use it with some horror.”

Stott added that the Climate and Health Council, an organisation of health professionals which he is chair, would “support the action of those who take non-violent direct action to reduce carbon emissions.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Martin Eakins of Northenden told the court how Manchester City Council overruled councillors in Wythenshawe by giving the airport planning permission for expansion. He then claimed that Manchester City Council’s aim of 40 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 was overshadowed by its omission of the airport from its plans. The council’s rationale for this was “that without binding international treaties [for reductions on aviations emissions] they cannot act as the business would go elsewhere.”

The last witness to be summoned was Peter Johnson, resident of Hasty Lane, whose home is due to be demolished to allow for expansion of the airport freight terminal. Speaking of the inability to secure an appeal against the decision he said: “I feel cheated by the process of a so-called democracy.”

Concluding for the Crown, Miss Moore said that the reports from the scientists summoned were “full of opinion and speculative and open to debate.” Commenting on the invocation of the necessity defence she said: “It is not clear what was absolutely necessary to do: stop the plane? Stop expansion? Stop climate change?” In closing she added that Manchester Airport contributed only 0.025 per cent of total UK carbon emissions and that closing it would “have negligible effect…If this type of behaviour is deemed acceptable, where would it end: stop every car? Close every factory in the country?”

In his summary for the defence, Mr Rhodes said: “[The] necessity [defence] is the choice between the lesser of two evils. Climate change is the worse threat. It is a myth that it is a future threat. This was not an over the top action compared with the threat; if anything it was too small.”

“No matter how symbolic or ultimately futile their act they felt impelled to act…There can be no doubt that the defendants are on the right side of history.”

Michael Pooler

More: Manchester, News


  1. This was really a show trial and the verdict was never really in doubt. I would like to express my full solidarity with the climate change protestors and recognise that the only viable course of action open to them is non violent direct action.

    Comment by barry woodling on February 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm
  2. The result was never in doubt because there was no doubt they had made a criminal nuisance of themselves at the airport.

    Their defence was laughable. Their argument that laws shouldn’t apply to them because of their beliefs was as silly and irrelevant as the bluster as teenagers blurt out during a tantrum.

    However, when mature adults such as the alleged experts were willing to appear in their defence it is perhaps partly excusable that these young men were gullible enough to indulge in their criminal antics. I expect that is why the magistrates let them off with a slap on the wrist.

    Comment by simon on February 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm
  3. Simon,
    time to put up or shut up mate. What other experts (nice use of scare quotes, btw) would you prefer, other than the ex-Tyndall director Prof Kevin Anderson? Go on, tell us who your experts are. If not, why don’t you go waste someone else’s electrons and bandwidth. (Please note, I am not saying the protest was necessarily sensible or effective – that’s a separate debate. I just think rather than smearing honorable academics, you should name the names of the people YOU think we all should be listening to.)

    Comment by Dwight Towers on March 2, 2011 at 6:58 am
  4. Dwight,

    I note that Robin Stott quoted a World Health Organisation figure for climate change deaths.

    Does Mr Stott know that the WHO is a United Nations body?

    If I were defending someone in court the UN is the last organistion I’d use for evidence. It is entirely undemocratic, allows murderous totalitarian regimes like communist China and the Soviet Union to have a permanent palce on its ruling committee, allows nations like Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Libya onto its main human rights committee, has been implicated in child sex abuse claims and oversees the IPCC, the committe which is a bit of a laughing stock for stuff like the ludicrous claims that the Himalayan glaciers will melt in a few years time.

    By using such a disreputable organisation as the UN for his witness evidence Mr Stott probably did the defendants more harm than good. If he’d overslept on the day of the trial they’d probably have been acquitted!

    Comment by simon on March 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm
  5. Simon,
    instead of trying to change the subject/add further slurs and smears, please at least pretend to try to answer the question – Who are your experts? If you just go around flinging mud, people will start to wonder if you have anything substantive to say, or if you are just a small child trying to get attention.

    Comment by Dwight Towers on March 9, 2011 at 11:09 am
  6. What mud am I flinging Dwight?

    I’m just telling you some facts about the UN, and that I’m surprised anyone would dream of using such a disreputable organisation as the basis of a criminal defence.

    When a defence relies on such ‘experts’ the prosecution doesn’t really need any!

    Comment by simon on March 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm

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