Thursday, August 16, 2007

HEATHROW PROTESTS -- Heavy Handed Policing Backfires

by Daphne Liddle

THE GOVERNMENT is planning to use its most draconian anti-terror legislation against a broad coalition of groups – under the umbrella organisation Camp for Climate Action – who are assembling at a campsite close to Heathrow Airport for a massive but peaceful demonstration this weekend.
Estimates of the number of protesters expected from all over Britain and Europe vary from 1,500 to 3,000 – a modest number for a national demonstration. But around 1,800 police will be deployed who have been told by the Government to use powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 against the demonstrators.
These powers include stop and search even if police have no reason to suspect a person.
“That’s unbelievably heavy handed,” said camp spokesperson Anna Jackson, “They’re using the most draconian legislation on the statute book, and I hope they can be embarrassed out of it.”
Protesters include members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a variety of environmental groups and local villagers whose homes are threatened by plans to expand Heathrow and build a fifth runway.
The camp is supposed to be a model of eco-friendly communal living, with electricity supplied by solar and wind power.
Some papers claim to have infiltrated the campers and have published scaremongering leaks. In particular the London Evening Standard front page carried a banner headline claiming: “Militants will hit Heathrow”.
A Camp for Climate Change spokesperson responded saying: “This story did not contain a single source or even attempt at a source. smear campaign
“We don’t know who is feeding them this stuff and the suspicion is that we are the subject of a smear campaign. We are challenging BAA [the airport operator] to come clean.”
BAA denied planting the scare story but expressed anger that the protesters’ plans might disrupt the airport at the height of the holiday season.
No one yet knows exactly what form the protest will take. The campers assume they are infiltrated and are therefore delaying finalising plans.
Anna Jackson said: “We really can’t say what the direct action will be – there are no leaders in this camp. It’s 100 per cent democratic, run through consensus.
“It will be down to individuals’ judgement as to what they think is the best way to take action.
“It’s inevitable that the authorities are going to be in these meetings, coming into the camp and infiltrating – we can’t stop them coming in. But the camp is a lot more than just mass action.”
Clearly the intent of BAA, the police and the Government is to be as intimidating as possible to discourage people from taking part in the protest.
But this is proving counterproductive as the media – at the height of the silly season and little else to fill news bulletins – has been giving the protest a lot of coverage before it has even begun, ensuring that awareness of the issues involved is being raised all around.
The protesters point out that 20 million litres of fuel are consumed at Heathrow every day and 31.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are generated there every year. joining
One of those attending will be the chair of Bournemouth and Poole Greenpeace, Richard Hillyard. He says he will be joining the Heathrow campaigners on Friday.
“Heathrow and BAA are being targeted because it’s a major UK airport and campaigning there will get a lot of attention, but it is really a statement against the expansion of many local UK airports, Bournemouth included,” he said.
“If aviation expands at the rate the Government wants, then every other industry would have to be zero carbon, which in reality has no chance of happening.
“Greenpeace is trying to mobilise the focus on binge flying, trying to get the message across that there’s no need to fly internally in this country just because it’s cheap.”
He says public transport needs to be drastically improved to give people a real alternative.
And they hope that this is the message that makes the news, rather than a battle with the police.
But at the same time the state is delivering another message – ordinary peaceful protesters are the real targets of anti-terror legislation.

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