Extinction Rebellion co-founder ‘planned to jam Heathrow traffic with drones’

The Extinction Rebellion co-founder planned with others to fly drones near Heathrow to “paralyze” the airport and “embarrass” the government into abandoning plans for a third runway there, a court heard.

Roger Hallam and other environmental activists wanted the protest, which began as Heathrow Pause, to go viral and shut down the airport, while also causing arrests and a lot of publicity, he told Isleworth Crown Court in London.

Hallam told detectives in his police interview that the aim of the September 2019 protest was to “shut down Heathrow for the foreseeable future”, the jury heard.

Hallam, 57, of Wandsworth, south London, Larch Maxey, 51, of no fixed abode, and Valerie Milner-Brown, 71, of Islington, north London, have pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to causing a public nuisance.

Another man, Michael Lynch-White, who is not appearing in this trial, pleaded guilty to the same charge, jurors were told.

It was to alert the operators to the danger of possible disaster. As safety-first operators, they should take their ultimate security measure

Attorney James Curtis KC

Hallam, Maxey and Milner-Brown are accused of conspiring with Lynch-White and others on or before September 14, 2019 to close the transport hub to air traffic due to the “unauthorised and unlawful flight” of drones in flight Heathrow's 5 km (3.1 mi) restricted zone.

A media campaign was launched and “random people” who believed in the cause were invited to “come forward” and make sure “the threat was multifaceted and compelling”, said prosecutor James Curtis KC.

He said: “It was to alert operators to the risk of potential disaster. As security-conscious operators, they should take their utmost security measure.”

Mr Curtis added: “This case is not about the merits of the various measures we want to save the planet nor is it about the beliefs of the people who want to achieve those goals.

“This case is about closing Heathrow in the short term or, as they thought, in the long term, closing it to world traffic.”

Mr Curtis said the defendants' “stated aim, note after note, public announcement after public announcement, was to paralyze Great Britain's main transport hub which is also the busiest in Europe” and to do so “not only for an hour. about a week, two weeks' or ‘an indistinct period'.

There is tremendous danger for aircraft to be hit or nearly hit by flying objects

Attorney James Curtis KC

The court was told that the protesters' “concerted plan” arose from their “most laudable aims – to save the planet from impending doom” – and the deaths they predict could come from carbon emissions.

Mr Curtis said the protest aimed “to force the government and parliament to overturn the green light for Heathrow's third runway project” and sought to do so by “paralyzing a major body of the country and forcing Heathrow to close ».

It is not suggested that the activists planned to kill anyone or cause a plane to crash.

Mr Curtis said their aim was to force carriers to face a “potential disaster” in order to take off flights.

He said: “There is a tremendous risk of aircraft being hit or nearly hit by flying objects. It would be a risk operators could not afford to take with human beings or live cargo on board and with homes close to the ground below.”

The people taking part in the protest would also pose a risk because “most of them were new to drone flying, with little or no experience of flying machines”, the court heard.

Claims by the protest group that they hoped passengers could have made alternative arrangements and that tight security measures were taken by activists were described by the prosecution as “pie in the sky”.

The court was also told that environmental campaigners met with police ahead of the protest to discuss their plans to fly toy drones into the Heathrow exclusion zone.

Mr Curtis said they ignored the “misery and inconvenience” to passengers, who could include holidaymakers, people visiting dying relatives or carrying vital medical cargo.

He said they ignored “the enormous economic damage” that could have been caused worldwide because “what mattered was in their hearts – they were on a mission of ideals”.

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday at 10 am.