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Heathrow protest: Extinction Rebellion issues WhatsApp instructions about 'adapted' climate change demonstration, as teenagers threatened with arrest

All reasonably quiet on the airport’s northern front: promised disruption has not happened

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 19 April 2019 14:30 BST
Extinction Rebellion: Youth protesters at Heathrow read Riot Act by surrounding police

From London icons such as Parliament Square and Oxford Circus, the Extinction Rebellion climate-change protest has now moved to the entrance to the tunnel the northern runway at Heathrow.

Four teenage protesters, holding a banner reading “Are we the last generation,” are surrounded by around 40 police – drafted in from as far away as Wales to deal with planned disruption at Europe’s busiest airport.

One of the protesters, 14-year-old Samar from London, told The Independent: “We want to spread a message about what needs to be done by the people in power, and we’re making our voices heard.”

Next to the model of an Emirates Airbus A380, which greets arrivals by road to the airport, two giant tow trucks are on standby to deal with any obstructions that may be brought in by protesters

The build-up to Friday morning’s activity suggested that a large-scale gathering would be taking place.

“As we test our escalation strategy on the ground,” the group said in a WhatsApp appeal to supporters, “We are adapting and changing our carefully designed plan.

“There is deep remorse for those whose holiday and family plans will be disrupted,” the message continues.

“However, the aviation sector needs to be targeted.”

Instructions on WhatsApp told protesters to catch the 7.12am train from London Paddington to West Drayton, a suburban station west of the capital, then the 222 bus.

The choice of Heathrow on a bank holiday was surprising, given that the airport is significantly quieter on Good Friday than on the average Friday, due to a sharp reduction in the amount of business travel. Participants were told: “This will be standard swarming process. If there are lots of us, there will be a low risk of arrest.”

But “those interested in arrestable roles as part of this action” were invited to apply separately by email for selection.

The police warned the four protesters they would be arrested if they did not leave the area – which is covered by special bylaws and anti-terrorist legislation.

Heathrow Airport said in a statement: “We are working with the authorities to address any threat of protest that could disrupt the airport.

“While we respect the right to peaceful protest and agree with the need to act on climate change, we don’t agree that passengers should have their well-earned Easter break holiday plans with family and friends disrupted.

“Passengers should contact their airlines for up-to-date information on their journeys.”

The assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Nick Ephgrave, said: “Protesters can expect a robust police response. We are determined to keep the airport operating.”

Earlier, the Met said: “The serious disruption the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations are causing to people in central London and beyond is unacceptable and we completely understand the concern it is causing to those who are disrupted by it

“Officers have now arrested over 500 Extinction Rebellion protestors.

“The investigations will continue and 10 have already been charged. Local officers are engaging with members of the community and businesses to evidence the impact to support prosecutions.”

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