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Protest sparks Heathrow disruption

Published 13/07/2015

Plane Stupid activists said they would stay on the runway for as long as possible
Plane Stupid activists said they would stay on the runway for as long as possible

Travellers have been warned to expect disruption as climate change activists stage a protest on the north runway at Heathrow Airport.

A supporter of direct action group Plane Stupid said a dozen demonstrators entered the runway at 3.30am after cutting a hole in a fence.

He said the protesters were campaigning against airport expansion and would stay there for as long as possible.

A Heathrow Airport spokesman said: "A group of people have breached the airport perimeter fence and are currently staging a protest on the northern runway."

He added: "We are working closely with the police who are dealing with the incident. Both runways are open although there will still be delays - we are sorry for the disruption to passengers.

"Our priority remains to ensure the safe running of the airport."

A video posted online showed several activists chained together and being spoken to by a police officer.

The officer told them: "As a consequence of you being here, you are causing severe disruption and it will be in the millions of pounds because i t will take us a while to remove you.

"The cost will be in the couple of millions. The airport will attempt to make a civil recovery."

He added: "There are international flights now being diverted."

Earlier this month a long-awaited report recommended that a new runway should be built at Heathrow rather than Gatwick.

After three years of investigation, the Airports Commission said Heathrow was best placed to provide "urgently required" capacity, but environmentalists warned that building a new runway there will make it harder to reduce air pollution and climate change emissions.

Ella Gilbert, one of the activists on the runway, said: " Building more runways goes against everything we're being told by scientists and experts on climate change.

"This would massively increase carbon emissions exactly when we need to massively reduce them, that's why we're here.

"We want to say sorry to anyone whose day we've ruined, and we're not saying that everybody who wants to fly is a bad person.

"It's those who fly frequently and unnecessarily who are driving the need for expansion, and we cannot keep ignoring the terrifying consequences of flying like there's no tomorrow.

"No ifs, no buts, no third runway. And we mean it."

The Metropolitan Police confirmed that some of the demonstrators had chained themselves together using a so-called tripod.

A spokesman said: " At approximately 3.45am officers were alerted to a number of protesters who had made their way airside at Heathrow Airport.

"A small number of these protesters are believed to have chained themselves to a 'tripod'.

"Officers are in attendance."

Travellers took to Twitter to vent their frustration after the demonstrations caused delays on flights around the world.

One passenger, Jonathan Peat, posted: "W hat's happening at Heathrow. Waiting to leave Newcastle and been told there are protesters on runway?"

He later said: "I n the end only 10mins (delay). Plane full. Seems that others later today will not be so lucky."

Jacob Firsel, who was delayed in Israel, tweeted: "Protests at Heathrow and we're stuck on the runway in Tel Aviv. So much for good start to our vacation."

Traveller Oliver Weiss wrote: "Not my day so far. Delayed flight due to Heathrow security alert and Blackberry fails just before I manage to send lengthy email."

Another passenger, named only as Kellie, said: "Activists have chained themselves to the airport at Heathrow causing delays and we're waiting for our flight from Heathrow. F***ing typical. "

Other flyers were more sympathetic to the protesters, with Eamonn Maguire posting: "As someone sitting waiting at Glasgow Airport about to board a flight to Heathrow: fair doos."

Afzal Ashraf, a consultant fellow at defence and security think- tank the Royal United Services Institute, said the security breach is a "concern".

"If they did manage to get to a runway before being apprehended then there is a bit of an issue," he said.

"If a terrorist group came up to the fence it would take a few minutes to cut through.

"It's very easy to get to a fence before the police are able to react."

Mr Ashraf said the incident "does raise questions" about security at the airport.

"I think we need to look at the details, it's worth asking questions. I don't think there is a straightforward comparison between protesters and terrorists," he added.

"It's one thing to get in and chain yourself to a railing, it's another to get near an aircraft.

"I'm sure there will be a security review."

A number of British Airways flights due to depart from Heathrow Terminal 5 were disrupted due to the protest.

Louise Rogers, 35, and Ciara Lalor, 34, had their flight home to Dublin cancelled.

The pair, who had visited London to see the tennis at Wimbledon, both expressed their anger towards the activists.

Ms Rogers said: "It's affecting an awful lot of people's lives.

"I'm not one bit impressed.

"They should be shot with rubber bullets."

Her friend, Ms Lalor, said: "They've disrupted so many people.

"They shouldn't be allowed.

"Get the fire engine out and hose them down."

A bride and groom who were due to travel on the cancelled Dublin flight for their wedding tomorrow were delayed by more than 13 hours.

Chris Madigan, 28, and his fiancee Kristen Lutz, 25, will fly to the Irish capital later tonight because of the protest.

Ms Lutz, from Chicago, said: "My whole family are already there (at the wedding venue).

"It's quite frustrating.

"This is a major airport in a major city so it's quite disheartening."

Mr Madigan, who is originally from London but now lives in the US with his bride-to-be, said: "It's a pain in the arse.

"We're supposed to be going to Dublin to get married. We're getting married tomorrow.

"It's put a spanner in the works."

At least seven British Airways domestic and short-haul flights from Terminal Five were cancelled.

A spokesman for the airline apologised for the disruption and advised passengers to check the status of their flights online.

He said: "We are doing everything we can to minimise disruption to our flights at Heathrow following a protest on one of the airport's runways.

"We are sorry for the disruption to our customers' travel plans and are advising them to check their flight on"

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