A defendant speaks as campaigners remain defiant after Manchester Airport protest sentencing
Defendant Dave Cullen reflects on the two day trial of the six climate protesters who breached airside security at Manchester Airport in May 2011, forming a human chain around the wheel of an aircraft. The defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated trespass, arguing that they acted to prevent death and serious injury by stopping emissions.
It’s been a long & strange experience. I feel really privileged to have spent a most of two days listening to experts at the top of their field talk about their specialist areas of knowledge. It was surreal to hear them outline in stark terms the huge threat that is climate change, and the overwhelming need to take action right now, and then to look around at the staid courtroom and the calm faces. My immediate thought was often: “What are we doing sitting around listening to this? Why aren’t we out there chaining ourselves to large pieces of carbon infrastructure”.
I think it’s fair to say that although the experience of sitting in court was a sometimes little like being at school in front of a grumpy headmaster, we’ve all come out of it more convinced than ever that we had to take action, and that we can’t go back home and wait for the established political structures to sort their act out. Time after time, the court was told that climate change is killing people right now, and that our window for doing something about it is rapidly shrinking.
We heard that the Climate Change and Health Council, comprised of high profile public health professionals such as the editor of the British Medical Journal, are so concerned about the threat from climate change that they have a policy of supporting those involved in non-violent direct action. We heard from retired professors and MPs who are so concerned about this issue that they recognise that direct action is a logical response to the situation. With endorsements like that, who cares what the district judge in Trafford Magistrates Court thinks?
It was really clear from the Judges summing up that he really failed to understand or engage with the issues before the court. In fact from what he said I’m not sure he really understood all of the legal issues, but there you go. For the court to acquit us, he would have to sign up to premise that any reasonable person faced with the reality of climate change and knowing what we know, would feel obliged to break into Manchester Airport and lock themselves around the wheel of a plane. That was never likely to happen, but I’m really glad to have stood up in court and said why I felt it necessary to take action on climate change, and to give more prominence to the issues.
There are so many points and comments I will remember: Professor Kevin Anderson saying that, aside from setting fire to a large pool of kerosene in your back garden, flying was the most carbon intensive activity that anyone can engage in. Hearing Pete Johnson, whose house will be demolished by Manchester Airport’s expansion plans, detailing how he felt he had been thwarted by politicians with vested interests. Standing up myself and telling the council for the prosecution that the only debate on climate change was between people who knew what they were talking about and those who didn’t.
The main thing that came out in our evidence was that Manchester Airport’s expansion plans have been shown to be invalid, based on outdated national policy which has been superseded by the 2008 Climate Change Act and a 2010 High Court ruling. This was never challenged in the court, and the judge even accepted to the extent that he wanted to dismiss our case because we would have had such a good case in a judicial review of the expansion plans. Actually, that avenue was closed to us because of the potential costs, and because the legal odds would have been stacked against us.
What was really clear was that the Manchester City Council’s expansion plans lack any grounding in either law or common sense. Despite the backwards attitude of the judge, and the irrelevant bickering about whether our actions actually prevented emissions or not, we won the moral argument, and came out of the court even more determined to draw attention to the pointless shortsighted nature of what is happening. Our case stated clearly that our society, wedded to short-term economic growth without regard for environmental or social consequences, cannot continue the way it is. This was never challenged, because it is incontestable. I know that almost everyone who sat through that court hearing recognises this more than ever, and that the time for action is now.