Runway protesters win stay of execution

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The Independent Online
The court officials looked perturbed. Sixty protesters were clamouring at the door like the cohorts of Spartacus, ready to suffer for their cause. "I'm Daniel Hooper," yelled one. "I'm Daniel Hooper," called others in a crescendo round Manchester High Court.

They were not, of course. Swampy, known at birth as Daniel Hooper, was widely believed to be down a tunnel and digging hard at the site of the proposed Manchester airport's pounds 172m second runway.

But as the airport authorities and contractors Tarmac and AMEC went to court yesterday to seek a possession order on the controversial site, he was in fact the only protester actually named in proceedings.

The other 100 or so people now permanently based in six camps across the proposed runway extension were named at court as "persons unknown".

So when the court tried to bar entry to the somewhat muddy hordes, the cry of "I am Daniel" went up (with the exception of Arthur Pendragon, who is standing in the election on a civil rights and environmental platform and has a public profile to maintain).

Under the watchful eye of a van load of police and two mounted officers, a very British compromise ensued. Those who wished to be cited as a defendant gave their name and were admitted to find proceedings adjourned for two weeks.

The activists were delighted by the reprieve. "We thought we were going to be denied justice," said one. Instead, the delay was exactly what was wanted.

Melanie, of the Coalition Against Runway 2, said there were so many legal questions hanging over the whole case it was right they should be given a stay of execution. "We do not want this environmental destruction to be steamrollered through at the whim of profiteering polluters," she said.

They claim, among other things, that without the protesters, the contractors would care little for the regulations designed to protect nesting birds. They argue a possession order on the land would prejudice their application for a judicial review of proceedings.

Practically, the longer eviction proceedings are delayed the more entrenched the network of camps, tunnels and tree houses on the runway site becomes and the more difficult it will be to remove them.

There have been five camps - Flywood, River Rats, Wild Garlic, Sir Cliff Richard OBE Vegan Revolution and Zion Tree - which vary in size and muddiness. Yesterday Rob, 19, claimed there was now the Jimi Hendrix site too.

All are in contact by walkie-talkie radio and mobile telephones. Devices used to monitor babies are in place to contact those down the tunnels.

Many locals supply food. Dan, in his work suit, told how railway workers had handed him a bag of doughnuts for the protesters. The man cooking at the wood fire at Flywood had bought his own bacon, however. The act provoked a debate on the ethics of eating meat.

Yet while there were differing opinions on that, there was unanimity on their determination to stay. "I believe we're the last generation that can do anything about the continual destruction of the environment," said Matt, 23.

Despite police fears that recent violent clashes indicate that some outsiders are trying to use the camps to cause trouble, Matt said the only violence was coming from the police and security guards.

Greg, 22, had no illusions that the runway would be built eventually. "But it's my intention to cause as many problems as possible during the building to cost the contractors as much money as possible so they think twice about doing it again."

The connection between environmental destruction and capitalist "profiteering" is mentioned again and again.

Ellenor Hutson, known as Animal when she dug herself into a tunnel at the Devon A30 protest, said direct action was not simply an alternative way of lobbying. She said: "This is my preferred method of protesting because people who are destroying and exploiting the environment are motivated by money. We want to stop them from profiting."

To Manchester airport, however, the protesters remain straightforward trespassers. A spokeswoman said they would press ahead for possession.

"We have been through a full public inquiry which found in favour of a second runway. A number of protesters chose not to take part," she said.