Heathrow 13: British Justice 0

Judge loses plot in high stakes climate change battle

As a former civil rights lawyer I've seen a fair few judges and a number of political trials but the performance of District Judge Deborah Wright yesterday at the Heathrow 13 trial was probably the most extraordinary.

13 amazing public spirited Plane Stipid activists, many from Hackney and east London, occupied the runway at Heathrow last July to prevent planes from emitting greenhouse gases that cause climate change and air pollution. They stood charged with aggravated trespass, an offence created to criminalise direct action. All are impressive people with astonishing c.v.s in campaigning to prevent climate change. So powerful was their case the judge was immediately forced to concede that climate change is caused by emissions, that it has catastrophic effects across the globe and that all the defendants acted with genuine and sincere belief that only direct action can stop the ongoing disaster. However the creep towards a police state in the UK has reached a point where this kind of brave and urgently necessary action is very hard to defend in court. Defendants are denied trial by their peers lest a jury recognise the justice of their cause and acquit. Instead very junior judges decide cases in magistrates courts. In highly political cases such as this specific, conservative and authoritarian, district judges are allocated these trails, often outside their own courts, just to be sure of a State approved verdict. This is how the British State deals with the most effective political activists.

So it was yesterday at a packed number 1 court in Willesden Magistrates. Having spent the whole trial excluding evidence relating to climate change, political failure and dire human costs DJ Wright restricted the defence lawyers to 10 minutes each before delivering her predictable verdict of guilty. So far nothing very surprising. Although she was not especially hostile during the trial her bias was always clear and there was no doubt in anyone's mind she would hide behind legal technicality to convict. The dice were loaded long before anyone stepped into court.

What was extraordinary however was what followed immediately after her largely reasoned judgement of guilty. Shaking and struggling to control her own emotions the judge then began a rant against defendants that seconds earlier she had commended as genuine and having outstanding character references. She criticised the defendants for not commenting on matters about which neither she nor the prosecutor had bother to ask and literally invented evidence. Bias in judges is not uncommon but uncontrolled, irrational outbursts are usually restricted to a few doddery old men long past there intellectual prime. Wright accused the defendants of showing no concern or remorse for the inconvenience thousands had suffered from delayed or cancelled flights despite knowing full well the issue had never been raised in the trial other than by two defendants. She also relied on completely inaccurate figures of those delayed choosing numbers even the prosecution accepted were inflated by high winds that restricted flight movements on the same day. Most bizarre of all she then speculated, in the complete absence of any evidence, that those delayed might have been travelling to visit sick relatives or “going to school”. Aside from the obvious impropriety of making up evidence to suit her vindictiveness she clearly had gained no understanding whatsoever of the disaster that unnecessary constant flyers are wreaking on the climate (15% of UK population take 70% of UK flights).

The rant concluded by instructing the defendants that that should all expect immediate custodial sentences for the disruption and the “absolutely astronomical” cost to Heathrow. Having excluded relevant evidence she had no idea how trivial those costs are compared to the national and global costs of flooding, drought, sea level rise and air pollution.

Slightly shocked by the judge's outburst but completely defiant the defendants told the waiting press they had no choice but to act in light of abject political failure to prevent 300,000 deaths per annum from climate change. Asked if they would do it again they said “definitely”. And this is the State's dilemma. Having abandoned any pretence of democracy and now completely in the hands of the 1% mega-rich psychopaths the British State is no longer able to play subtle games with repression. The gloves are well and truly off and in so doing the State is educating a new generation of activists who will have no naïvety as to who holds power and what to do about it.

Bring on the Heathrow 130.

Plane Stupid is a network of grassroots groups that take non violent direct action against aviation expansion.

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Comment by Russell Miller on February 24, 2016 at 16:58

Judge backed down and chose suspended prison sentences despite giving the clearest possible indication all would go straight to jail. She climbed down because she had to. With 300-500 people outside and international eyes on the case, out and out persecution was not the logical option for a British political prosecution.  Don't wake up the sleeping millions by doing something vicious when people are watching.

Avoiding prison is a victory because it's clearly what was intended. It also means others contemplating desperately needed similar direct action may be less fearful of jail. But as several of the amazing Heathrow 13 defendants said jail is not to be feared. If it takes jail so be it. Desperate times require action.  Brave people have been imprisoned throughout history and with Britain and most of the world in the grip of the insane 1% of psycopaths prison is a necessary pathway to freedom.

They took action and stayed strong throughout the trial ordeal.

Well done Heathrow 13. May you inspire thousands to follow your example.

Comment by Russell Miller on February 24, 2016 at 12:19

Sentencing postponed until 3pm TODAY (Weds 24th). Go to Willesden Mags for solidairy demo.

Comment by Russell Miller on February 23, 2016 at 15:21

DEMO in support of Heathrow 13 tmrw (weds 24th Feb) at Willesden Mags. Meet 9am. Don't let climate change activists go to prison quietly.

See you there. (Solidarity Demo: https://www.facebook.com/events/1520319771595789)

Comment by Sheila Tequila on February 9, 2016 at 11:57

Thank you Russell Miller for this fantastic article! :-)
We (the #Heathrow13) are definitely all feeling the support and solidarity from far and wide, and I know that there will be many people showing their solidarity outside the court on the day of sentencing. (Solidarity Demo: https://www.facebook.com/events/1520319771595789)

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