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Heathrow Runway Climate Change Protesters Spared Jail

The "Heathrow 13" received suspended jail terms at Willesden magistrates’ court after chaining themselves to railings at Heathrow airport last year.

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A group of 13 activists who chained themselves to railings at Heathrow airport in protest at plans to build a new runway were spared jail at a hearing on Wednesday.

These are the #Heathrow13 - in court as we speak for peacefully protesting for #NoNewRunways - RT if you support

The seven men and six women, who range in age from 22 to and 67, were sentenced to six weeks in jail, suspended for one year, as well as unpaid community service, at Williesden magistrates' court.

The group, all members of the pressure group Plane Stupid, said they would have been the first climate change activists to be jailed in the UK.

The court heard they caused major disruption on 13 July 2015 when they cut through a fence on Heathrow's northern runway and spent several hours chained to railings. Their actions caused 25 flights to be cancelled and many more to be delayed.

The verdict was met with cheers from outside the courtroom.

huge cheers for #Heathrow13 from outside court can be heard loud and clear, keep them coming!!! we love you! #NoNewRunways

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They were convicted of aggravated trespass and entering a restricted area at a hearing in January.

At the trial, the group argued that their actions were peaceful and that they informed the police in advance.

The 13 activists are: Sam Sender, 23; Ella Gilbert, 23; Cameron Kaye, 23; Edward Thacker, 26; Alistair Tamlit, 27, Danielle Paffard, 28; Rebecca Sanderson, 28; Richard Hawkins, 32; Kara Moses, 32; Melanie Strickland, 32; Graham Thompson, 42; Sheila Menon, 44; and Robert Basto, 67.

The group acted after a report from the Airports Commission recommended that a third runway should be built at Heathrow.

As part of their defence, the group used scientific data in court to argue that cancelling flights could be the most effective way to reduce harmful emissions.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the group said: "Clearly, none of us would choose to go to jail, but this shouldn’t be singled out as the main ‘injustice’."

"Climate change is the real injustice, with the majority of the world's population, those in the global south, being the ones who continue to be most affected.

"The science is clear. ... There can be no new runways in the UK if we are to take climate change seriously."

Among the group's supporters are the Green party, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP, whose constituency includes Heathrow.

.@johnmcdonnellMP to #Heathrow13 crowd. "The reason people take direct action is when the democratic process fails"

The activists entered court to cheers from the gathering of supporters.

...and they're going in. Chants, tears + a massive crowd saying 'no' to jail time for the #Heathrow13 heroes.

The supporters remained outside the court to cheer the defendants as they left court.

#Heathrow13 #climatechange protesters avoid jail https://t.co/4TEuDlhW9d

Emotional scenes outside Willesden Magistrate Court as #Heathrow13 emerge, while the judge deliberates #olsx

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton and a former leader of the party, welcomed the decision not to jail the protesters.

Good news that the #Heathrow13 are free. They should never have faced the stress of threatened incarceration https://t.co/MeJeglj7B2

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.

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