In May 2010, 17 people staged a direct action at Manchester Airport, temporarily shutting it down. In December last year, 11 of the activists were charged with wilful obstruction of a public highway, and sentenced. The remaining 6 face trial on 21st February. Here Mark Haworth, one of the defendants from the first trial, tells us how it all panned out.
As the media turns it attention to the the undercover cops in the environmental movement, and the second Ratcliffe trial collapses – our recent court case for an action at Manchester Airport in May 2010 has progressed relatively simply.
There has been much talk of court rooms, barristers, judges and juries, which has been a distraction from what we were doing in the first place – direct action against big polluters. Manchester Airport is responsible for 5 million tonnes of CO2 per year – making it one of the biggest emitters in the North West.
On 24th May 2010, eleven of us blockaded the road entrance to the World Freight Centre at the airport using two tripods. No air freighted goods could get in or out for a few hours that morning. I found the action to be exciting, nerve-wracking and empowering all at the same time. For some of us it was the culmination of a long-running campaign in solidarity with residents at Hasty Lane – whose homes are threatened with demolition if the expansion of the World Freight Centre goes ahead.
At the same time as our road blockade – six others went airside and formed a human wheel clamp around a Monarch Airline jet. Those six are charged with aggravated trespass and will be running a necessity defence at Trafford Magistrates Court beginning 21st February.
Running a not guilty plea
It may seem that siting on top of tripod meant we were clearly guilty of the ‘obstruction of the highway’ charge that we faced. But both myself and my co-defendant Amanda Walters wanted to stand up in court and explain ourselves. We felt that given the severity of the issue of expansion plans at Manchester Airport and its impacts on the climate, local homes and biodiversity spots, our actions amounted to a ‘reasonable use of the highway’ to use the legal term. Given the failings and bias of the local decision making process at Manchester City Council – which had overturned local councillors objections to approve expansion plans – we felt our actions were further justified.
The other nine activists who took part in the tripod action were also charged with obstruction of the highway and pleaded guilty at the start of the trial. Having heard factual witness reports from local resident Peter Johnson and local Councillor Martin Eakins on the democratic deficit – we too were nonetheless found guilty. We were all fined a weeks wages, plus court costs – amounting to around £4500 between the eleven of us.
Still, the statements of support we have received, the public campaign that is being run around the two trials, and the messages of solidarity from friends and family – have made it all worth while. We were inspired by the Climate 9, the Ratcliffe and Kingsnorth defendants. And as we told the press after court, the fight for climate justice against regional airport expansion continues.
The Climate 9 will be launching a handbook and short film later this Spring on the law, environmental justice and self defence, movement building and raising the stakes around trials for social and environmental importance. These can be used as a learning tool for activists, communities affected by environmental injustice, lawyers and others to help spread the message about the need for action.
Meanwhile, you can follow the preparations and progress for Manchester Airport on Trial’s second court case here. We’re inviting people to a show of support outside court at 9am on Monday 21st February 2011.