Monday, December 08, 2008

Security breached in airport protest

Protesters who breached secure areas of Stansted airport have disrupted air travel for hundreds of travellers. Essex police made 57 arrests following the demonstration which was described by airport operator BAA as “unlawful”. The action was mounted by climate change action group Plane Stupid, but with concerns that Britain’s airports might be under threat of terrorist attacks the demonstration could be regarded as plain stupid. In 2006 a threat of attacks

Ryanair has criticised the security at the airport after many of its flights were cancelled and there will no doubt be questions as to how the protesters were able to breach the secure area so easily.

Protesters, using bolt cutters, cut through fences at around 03:15 GMT and made their way onto an area near but not actually on the main runway. The airport does not become operational until around 06:00 GMT, but the action forced the closing of the runway until 08:10 GMT. At least 56 flights were cancelled and delays persisted throughout the day. Delays were also expected to continue into Tuesday, though Ryanair said there was likely to be disruption for the next three days. The disruption has left many passengers feeling angry.

One of the activists said that that while she was “incredibly apologetic” that passengers had been affected, the threat to the planet from airport expansion needed to be highlighted. Lily Kember, 21, told the BBC that "The effects of climate change are going to be monumental". Another protester said, "We're afraid of what the police might do to us, we're afraid of going to jail but nothing scares us as much as the threat of runaway climate change."

But the arguments failed to wash with passengers. Stuart Meacock, from Peterborough, told BBC Radio 5 Live, "It's disgusting. I mean, it's not only breaking all of the safety rules, but it's disrupting everybody's lives”. Another delayed passenger told the BBC Jorg Tittel told the BBC, "I am all for fighting for our environment, but these kids have failed already. They are making thousands of travellers angry". Many people also called into London’s radio station LBC to vent their anger over the events. For those waiting for flights the situation was uncertain with many passengers telling Sky News channel that they had found it difficult to get information.
The anger towards the protesters also filled bulletin boards and comments pages on the Internet. One Sky News viewer said, “They are all plain stupid and self-centred”. Some were even demanding the protest group should pay for their actions. One man writing under the name of Scott on Sky’s website said, “The police should beat them with nightsticks and then put them in jail for an illegal protest. The fine should be the total cost of clearing the runways, the additional fuel, overtime, etc divided evenly amongst all the members of the organisation, even if they were not there”.

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said 50 people had been accused of aggravated trespass, three of attempting to gain access to a restricted area, and four of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance. Ch Supt Ian Gruneberg told BBC News the demonstrators, who were chained together, were "committing a criminal act" and would be dealt with by the courts.

The irony about today’s protest was that amongst those delayed at Stansted was a delegation heading to the climate change summit at Poznan in Poland [BBC / Sky News].

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