Police have warned environmental protestors from the Extinction Rebellion movement that they could face life in prison if they fly drones near Heathrow Airport in West London. The group is said to be planning a day of action at Europe’s busiest airport on Tuesday 18th June and there has been talk that some protestors plan to disrupt operations at Heathrow by flying drones around the perimeter.
Illegal drone activity at Gatwick Airport late last year resulted in several days of serious disruption, with hundreds of flights cancelled and thousands of passengers affected.
Extinction Rebellion hasn’t commented on exactly what activity they plan at Heathrow on Tuesday but the idea of flying drones is said to have caused a rift between members. At the end of May, the group said it was “committed to nonviolence and will not take action that would put airline passengers at risk.”
“Reports to the contrary are the result of a misconstrued interpretation of a document circulated within the movement asking for feedback,” the statement continued.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor of London’s Metropolitan Police, however, yesterday warned Extinction Rebellion that flying drones around the airport could result in possible life sentences.
“There is speculation that protestors will use drones in order to disrupt business at Heathrow. I want to be absolutely clear that anyone caught illegally using a drone can expect to be dealt with in line with the law.
“If flown into the path of an aircraft, a drone has the potential to cause great harm to those on board. Affecting the safety of aircraft passengers is very different to blocking roads around London, and should this happen, the consequences will reflect the severity of the offence. Endangering the safety of an aircraft can result in a life sentence.
“As we have seen, the illegal use of drones at airports also has the capability to cause great disruption to the public, not only in London, but internationally. The airport is part of our national infrastructure, and we will not allow the illegal activity of protestors to cause disruption and misery to thousands.”
Taylor said Tuesday’s policing operation would be drawing resources from across London – as a result, he said the actions of environmental protestors could be directly impacting the effectiveness of frontline policing across the capital.
In April, Extinction Rebellion threatened to “shut down” Heathrow Airport as mass protests brought much of Central London to a grinding halt. In the end, the threat of a “robust” response from police and the very real prospect of losing public support saw the group hold a much smaller protest which didn’t result in any real disruption at the airport.
At the time, Heathrow Airport said it respected the right to peaceful protest and the need to act on climate change but said that shouldn’t mean the travel plans of passengers should be disrupted.
Extinction Rebellion says the world is facing an “environmental emergency” and claim that “peaceful, nonviolent, civil disobedience” is absolutely essential to draw attention to what they’re calling the “most pressing issue of our time.” The group is demanding the British government “tells the truth” about climate change and wants the authorities to commit to reducing greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2025.