Plane Stupid protesters spared jail walked out of Willesden Magistrates Court to the sound of cheers and support from crowds who had eagerly awaited the outcome all day .

The seven men and six women, who became known as the Heathrow 13 as proceedings ensued, were each sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment, suspended for a year , plus community service, on Wednesday (February 24).

Sheila Menon, praised in character references as an “honest and principled individual with strong ethical beliefs and strong compassion for others”, addressed the crowds outside court.

She said: “Although we got six-week sentences suspended for one year... for me, climate change is a death sentence.

"You can build new runways or you can stop climate chaos, but you can't do both.

“We had the means to act and so we did. It is because of people power like this, that we don't have a third runway now and people power will stop it again.”

RECAP: Plane Stupid Heathrow protester sentencings as they happened

Plane Stupid Heathrow protesters emerge victorious from Willesden Magistrates' Court

'Shouldn't be difficult to change Cameron's mind again'

Edward Thacker moved to Sipson to oppose the construction of a third runway at Heathrow and will continue with his community work in the villages now he's confirmed free.

He told getwestlondon : “We are delighted in that we weren't given immediate custody as threatened.

“I'll be going back to the Sipson to continue building and supporting the community there by preventing a third runway and fighting for our future.”

Graham Thompson, a Greenpeace press officer and one of the activists sentenced to 180 hours community service, said: “The court said we should prepare for immediate custodial sentences, the court said they were almost inevitable, but all the support we’ve received seems to have changed their minds.

“Now we’re asking all those who supported us to support stopping new runways.

“[Prime Minister David] Cameron has changed his mind before on this - it shouldn’t be too difficult to change it again.”

The campaigners, who had packed suitcases ready for prison, were visibly relieved to be spared immediate custody

Air pollution a 'ticking time bomb'

The three defence lawyers acting on behalf of the Heathrow 13, represented their clients for free to support the cause.

Raj Chada, partner and criminal defence lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen, who defended Melanie Strickland, Sam Sender, Sheila Menon and Robert Basto, said: “While relieved not to have received custodial sentences.

"My four clients stand by their actions and regard air pollution from Heathrow as a clear and present danger to human health.

“Having learned of scientific evidence that a third of aviation-attributable early deaths occur in Greater London each year and in particular, 31 people die early each year within a 20-mile radius of Heathrow Airport due to aircraft emissions, my clients felt compelled to act.

“Despite breaching European Union regulations aimed at reducing aviation emissions, no action has been taken against Heathrow. Further, we produced expert evidence at trial to show that 48% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK come from Heathrow and that aircraft emissions had a more serious effect on the environment than other sectors.

“Melanie, Sam, Sheila and Robert, along with their fellow protesters were protesting a matter of life and death. The impact of air pollution is a ticking time bomb.

“My colleague Jocelyn Cockburn is already investigating the possibility of bringing civil claims against the UK government for its failure to tackle this public health emergency. She believes the government is contravening its duty to protect the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Video thumbnail, Plane Stupid protesters play Queen outside court
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As well as a devoted crowd of Plane Stupid protesters, other campaign groups have spoken out after the hearing.

Liz Hutchins, Friends of the Earth campaigner said: “It’s right that these activists have not been imprisoned for protesting to protect the planet but a suspended sentence is still deeply unjust. Peaceful protest is an important part of any democratic society.

“Climate change is one of the most urgent threats to people in the UK and around the world. Extreme weather has already destroyed homes and livelihoods here in the UK and this is set to get worse unless we take urgent action to prevent further global warming.

“History will judge the greater threat to our society; climate change or those who protest peacefully in a bid to protect people from its devastating effects.”

A protester gives the thumbs up to gathered supporters and press outside court

The Green Party's candidate for London Mayor, Sian Berry, was “very glad” to hear the campaigners weren't going to jail.

She said: “I’m very glad these peaceful protesters are not going to jail, as we had feared they would. That would not only have been unjust, it would also have backfired on the government and the establishment who want to build a third runway.

“In any event I believe more and more members of the public are going to flock to this cause and this runway will never get built."

'Selfish actions of a tiny minority'

However, Rob Gray, director of the Back Heathrow, has blasted the group for their “illegal protest”.

He said: “Plane Stupid do not represent the majority of residents who value Heathrow as a major employer and force for good in the local area. Nor do they represent the millions of people who simply want the freedom to use the airport to catch a flight without being prevented doing so by the undemocratic and self-indulgent actions of others.

“The actions of the individuals involved with this demonstration were publicity-seeking and illegal. The judge showed leniency today but the selfish actions of a tiny minority will find little support in communities surrounding Heathrow."