For many of the defendants, this was their first introduction to the judicial system. One of the defendants, speaking after court stated that 'having just experienced the highly flawed and outdated justice system for the first time, there has never been a more urgent need for people to utillise civil disobedience as a tactic for campaigning.'
Campaigners from the 'Manchester Airport on Trial' group were sentenced today after a 2 day trial at Trafford Magistrates' court. The judge recognised the "sincerity" and "laudable motives" of the protesters, and handed down lenient sentences of 2 year conditional discharges and £310 court costs. One defendant received 80 hours of community service. The 6 campaigners stood trial for an action last May 2010 where they formed a human circle around the wheel of a Monarch Airline jet. All 6 pleaded not guilty to the charge of aggravated trespass, stating that they acted out of necessity to prevent the higher crime of climate change.
In November 2009 Manchester airport received planning approval to expand the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport, which will result in the demolition of local homes and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Although the coalition government cancelled plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, campaigners are now focussing their action more regionally as capacity is now being increased at regional airports instead.
Martin Eakins, local councillor, described the local efforts to prevent expansion at the Airport. In response to the judge's suggestion that campaigners would have had a strong case for judicial review of the plans, he explained that they had been refused funding on the basis that their challenge would be unsuccessful. Local resident, Pete Johnson, whose home on Hasty Lane faces demolition, told the court that their "efforts were thwarted by politicians with vested interests," and that he felt "angry, frustrated and cheated."
Over the 2 days the court has heard from many leading public figures who spoke out in defence of the 'Manchester Airport on Trial' group. On day one, leading scientist, Kevin Anderson, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research in Manchester, spoke out on the aviation industry's 'special treatment'. The aviation industry receives £9 billion a year in tax subsidies. Dr Geoff Meaden spoke on the impacts of climate change in the North West. Today public health expert Dr Robin Scott spoke on the health impacts of climate change. Expert witness statements were also read out including one written by John Mcdonnell MP who was a vocal politician in defeating the third runway at Heathrow airport.
People from across North England have now pledged to continue taking 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.
Speaking after the ruling one of the 6 defendants Iain Hilton, said: "Whatever the outcome was today, this climate court trial will not be the last. Climate change is accelerating at the same rate as it was before and continues to be the biggest threat to life as we know it. We have heard in court peer-reviewed Science, public health advocates, witness statements from MPs and we have heard from communities whose homes are threatened by airport expansion plans at Hasty Lane. We will not wait for the judicial system to act. Civil disobedience is a duty and a responsibility and we will continue to act to stop climate change".
John Mcdonnell MP said: "When governments themselves so blatantly ignore the wishes of the people they are elected to represent, when they promote the sectional interests of one sector of business above the interests of their citizens, when they deny Parliament an effective role, when they subvert their own democratic planning processes, and when their actions so dangerously contradict their own legislation on climate change, responsible citizens are left with no alternative but to take direct action to further the cause that they believe in."
Scientist Kevin Anderson said in court: "Why is it fair that aviation continues to be a special case while every other sector has to reduce their emissions? Every year we have an exponential increase in CO2 embedding us in a future of dangerous climate change. If aviation continues to grow that means we're heading for 4 degrees, but that would only be a transient temperature on the way to an equilibrium rise of 6 to 8 degrees. A rise of 4 degrees is dire, above that it gets worse and worse- it is a future that we contemplate at our own peril."
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