Cheering erupted in court as 13 Plane Stupid Heathrow activists who blocked a runway as part of a protest last year were spared jail.
The seven men and six women, who became known as the 'Heathrow 13' as the day of sentencings unfolded on Wednesday (February 24), were each sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment, suspended for a year, plus community service.
It is said that 25 scheduled flights were cancelled as a result of their actions, but defendants pleaded not guilty at on August 19 2015.
All 13 activists were sentenced at Willesden Magistrates Court after being found guilty in January. All were told to carry out 120 hours of community service, except Robert Bristoe, Danielle Paffard and Graham Thompson who will do 180 hours.
All Heathrow 13 members have also been banned from coming within 500m of Heathrow terminal buildings and 5m of the perimeter fence.
Had the group been sent to prison, it would have been the first custodial sentence given to climate activists in the UK, according to Plane Stupid.
Morning of evidence
The morning court sessions at Willesden Magistrates Court saw three defence QC's, who all offered to represent the protesters pro bono due to the nature of the case, give statements in support of their clients' defence.
International Human Rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, was present on behalf of Rebecca Sanderson, Richard Hawkins, Sheila Menon and Edward Thacker, all of previous good character and no previous convictions.
She told court: "This was direct action. A peaceful, political protest, exercising civil disobedience of conscious grounds.
"This case is not one which passes the custody threshold."
Asking for conditional discharges, Ms Brimelow said the last time a custodial sentence was given for aggravated trespass in the UK, was in 1932, when there was a mass trespass of the Moors in Lancashire.
She added: "They genuinely believed they were acting in the public interest. They are committed to reducing carbon emissions."
Prison would have added 'fuel to the fire'
Michael Turner QC spoke for Bristoe, Cameron Kaye, Sam Sender and Alistair Tamlit. He asked District Judge Wright for suspended sentences, coupled with community orders.
He said: "A prison sentence would not be a deterrent but would be the opposite, adding fuel to the fire and publicity."
Mr Turner argued all of his defendants presented a low risk of re-offending, but Judge Wright corrected him as some probation reports indicate a high risk.
Mr Bristoe has two previous convictions relating to fracking protests, including being made to pay a £250 fine for aggravated trespass at the Blackpool Tower.
Ella Gilbert was of good character apart from one caution, while Paffard had two previous aggravated trespass convictions and Thompson four.
Most of the Heathrow 13 had glowing character references detailing their commitments to their causes, including praise from Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett for lawyer and defendant Melanie Strickland.
Mark Summers QC, defending, concluded by addressing the judge: "They are all principled individuals with a long-standing commitment to climate change. I hope you will take all of that into consideration."
District Judge Deborah Wright considered the sentences on an individual basis, saying she had "a lot to consider".
No compensation orders were made despite what the judge described as 'considerable' losses caused to Heathrow Airport.
The full list of Plane Stupid members sentenced were:
- Rebecca Holly Sanderson, 28 (10.01.88) of Newton Road, Machynlleth, Powys;
- Melanie Strickland, 32 (17.02.83) of Borwick Avenue, Waltham Forest, E17;
- Richard Steven Hawkins, 32 (29.01.83) of Heol y Doll, Machynlleth, Powys;
- Ella Gilbert, 23 (16.07.92) of Magdalen Street, Norwich, Norfolk;
- Danielle Louise Paffard, 28 (25.02.87) of Blenhiem Grove, Southwark, SE15;
- Graham Edward James Thompson, 42 (27.09.73) of Durlston Road, Hackney, E5;
- Robert Anthony Basto, 68 (13.09.47) of Blackborough Road, Reigate, Surrey;
- Kara Lauren Moses, 33 (25.10.83) of Heol y Doll, Machynlleth, Powys;
- Cameron Joseph Kaye, 23 (11.02.92) of Kenwood Close, Sipson, West Drayton ;
- Edward Thacker, 26 (24.06.89) of Kenwood Close, Sipson, West Drayton;
- Alistair Craig Tamlit, 27 (16.05.88) of Kenwood Close, Sipson, West Drayton;
- Sheila Menon, 44 (22.10.71) of Pellerin Road, Hackney, N16;
- Sam Sender, 23 (25.01.92) of Kenwood Close, Sipson, West Drayton.