Thousands in flight delays after protest

THOUSANDS of people had their flights delayed today after 50 climate change activists broke into Stansted Airport and staged a demonstration on a runway.

THOUSANDS of people had their flights delayed today after 50 climate change activists broke into Stansted Airport and staged a demonstration close to its runway.

Police arrested 57 people following the security breach which began at about 3.15am today and saw campaigners occupy an area less than 60 yards from the landing strip.

Flights resumed shortly after 8am but the protest caused widespread disruption with delays and cancellations of early flights.

BAA, the operator of the airport, cancelled early take-offs and landings while police dealt with the demonstrators, who created a “fortress” by barricading themselves inside security fencing and concrete blocks.

Environmental protest group Plane Stupid said it had organised the demonstration during which campaigners chained themselves together in a bid to force disruption of scheduled flights.

The protest was over the airport's plans to allow the expansion of Stansted Airport with a second runway.

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A spokesman for Spanish-owned BAA said: “At approximately 3am today a group of individuals breached a perimeter fence at Stansted Airport. “

“They were very quickly apprehended and contained by Essex Police, who have made a number of arrests.

“As a precaution, Stansted's runway was closed and flights have been subject to delays and cancellations.

“Our priority is the safety of all our passengers, airlines and staff, and in conjunction with Essex Police we worked hard to re-open the runway which occurred at 8.10am.

“We are happy to engage in serious debates on airport expansion, and we respect people's right to protest within the bonds of the law. However, any unlawful or irresponsible behaviour aimed at disrupting the smooth operation of the airport is unacceptable. “People should engage in the relevant independent planning inquiries in an open, honest and safe way. We will of course investigate this incident and where there are lessons to learn we will do so.”

Police said that of the 57 arrests made, 50 were on suspicion of aggravated trespass, three were on suspicion of attempting to gain access to a restricted area and four were on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance.

Suspects were taken to police stations across the county where they will be questioned throughout the day, a spokeswoman added.

Inside the terminal, armed police watched over irate passengers queuing at budget airline Ryanair's check-in desks.

The carrier blamed BAA's security arrangements for the disruption, which saw more than 50 of its flights cancelled or delayed.

A statement given out to stranded passengers from the airline said: “Ryanair was advised this morning by BAA Stansted that Stansted Airport is closed for security reasons.

“Apparently a number of airport protesters have been demonstrating on the runway/taxiway since 0300 and BAA Stansted have failed to remove them.

“As a direct result of this security breach, Ryanair has been forced to cancel its first wave of flights (52 in total) out of and into Stansted Airport.

“Ryanair will be calling for an investigation as to why the BAA Stansted security has once again failed to keep Stansted Airport secure and open to the travelling public.

“It is unacceptable that the travel plans of thousands of passengers have been disrupted because BAA Stansted security have failed to remove a number of protesters.”

A spokesman for Plane Stupid said that most of the people involved in the demonstration were young people aged between 18 and 24.

“Since we were kids we have known about global warming,” Robbie Gillett, 22, told the Evening Star.

“But all we hear is a lot of talk about talk.

“The Stansted community are behind us on this issue, because they have gone through the public inquiry process and had their views completely ignored.

“When the legal and mainstream channels are shown to be ineffective, then direct action is the last resort and that is what we saw today.

“We are desperately concerned about the mess our generation and after is going to have to deal with.”

Last month pressure group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), launched a High Court appeal against a recent decision to increase passenger numbers at Stansted.

SSE said the Government was disregarding the climate change and noise impacts of increasing the number of flights at the Essex airport.

This morning, the group refused to condemn Plane Stupid's action at the airport.

SSE spokeswoman Carol Barbone said it had not been aware of the plan to occupy part of the air-side area in advance.

“There will be many people out there who will say 'good on you',” Ms Barbone told the Evening Star.

“But their action is not one we would ever pursue - it is not within our remit. We neither condemn nor condone it.

“No-one can condemn this action without also condemning the recklessness of the Government's policy on airport expansion and the major contribution which the resulting emissions would make to global warming.

“BAA's full frontal attack on the community with its plans to make Stansted bigger than Heathrow today, with a seven square kilometre landgrab for a second runway destroying historic homes and villages, must also be condemned.”

She continued: “Our own campaign has always been waged strictly within the law and we are pledged to continue to use all legal means to overturn the Stansted expansion plans.

“Nevertheless, today's action by Plane Stupid must be seen in context against the backdrop of a continuous assault of the local community by BAA and by a Government that claims to want to tackle climate change but seems determined to allow expansion of the airport.”

However, Braintree District Councillor James Abbot, co-ordinator of Essex Green Party and a campaigner against Stansted expansion for 25 years, said he believed the Plane Stupid's action was justified.

“It is always unfortunate when protests result in disruption, but someone has to take a stand against the Government's bone-headed insistence that airports must keep on expanding apparently without limit.

“More runways at Stansted and Heathow will lead to thousands of homes being bulldozed, huge areas of countryside being ripped up and a surge in UK greenhouse gas emissions.

“People in communities near the airports will be subjected to even more jet noise than they already suffer, which is bad enough during the day but also disturbs sleep.

“It is highly likely that there will be a lot more peaceful direct action unless the Government changes it airports policy,” he said.

Have you been affected by this incident? Call the Star's newsdesk on 01473 324788 or e-mail

Click here to visit the protesters' website and see video and pictures of the event