Just Stop Oil co-founder faces unlimited prison time for Heathrow action

Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil co-founder Roger Hallam will be sentenced today, alongside Dr Larch Maxey and Mike Lynch-White, for allegedly trying to shut down Heathrow Airport with small toy drones in September 2019.

The three are appearing at Isleworth Crown Court from 2pm. The common law offence of public nuisance for which they will be sentenced carries a maximum unlimited prison sentence and Judge Martin Edmonds has said that all sentencing options are on the table. The action, by the Heathrow Pause campaign, aimed to stop Heathrow’s third runway due to its projected impact on climate breakdown, noise and air pollution.

Roger Hallam (57) and Larch Maxey (51) were found guilty of conspiracy to cause public nuisance by a split jury which acquitted their co-defendant, former London Mayoral candidate Valerie Brown (71), on 15th December 2023. Mr. Lynch-White pleaded guilty in November 2023 whilst serving a 23 month prison sentence for disrupting the supply of weapons to Israel. Hallam and Maxey are appealing the verdict on the grounds of misdirection by the judge. Several independent lawyers have expressed their concern over the conduct of the trial and suggest they have a strong appeal with a good chance of success. [1]

The campaign, which gained international headlines, praise from academics and journalists and helped stop Heathrow airport’s expansion plans, involved flying small toy drones at head height, within the airport’s 5km exclusion zone, but so far away from any planes that it posed no risk to aircraft. Supporters of the campaign used a loophole in the airport’s own rules, requiring it to suspend all flights under these circumstances. The purpose was to open a national debate upon the wisdom of Heathrow Airport’s proposed expansion, in light of the ongoing ecological disaster.

There were a total of 20 toy drone flights within the 5km exclusion zone between 14-18 September 2019. Video footage of the flights was live streamed and provided to the police and airport authorities. A total of 24 people were arrested, some preemptively, although not all drone pilots were arrested, even when flying toy drones directly in front of the police and attempting to hand themselves in. [2]

Heathrow Pause had communicated its detailed plans to Heathrow Airport and the police over a month in advance, to allow them to prepare. It held meetings with both, to share information and ensure that the action passed off entirely peacefully.

In the weeks leading up to the action, Heathrow Airport claimed repeatedly that activists flying drones in the exclusion zone would put people’s lives at risk. In the event, it abandoned the protocols it had previously held up as being essential to passenger safety and continued flights as usual. In court, Airport Operations Manager Paul Farmer confirmed that the action had posed no risk to the public and had caused no disruption to air traffic.

Hallam and Maxey are appealing the guilty verdict on the grounds that trial judge Martin Edmunds KC misdirected them, the jury and himself in law. Initially Judge Edmunds directed that, to get a guilty verdict, the prosecution had to prove that the defendants intended to shut Heathrow down but that this was in fact impossible. In giving their evidence and closing speeches, Hallam and Maxey, who represented themselves, therefore argued that, although it was highly unlikely, anything was possible. [3]

In an unprecedented reversal, the judge then directed that, instead of proving impossibility, the prosecution now had to prove that it was possible that the airport might have been forced to shut down. Hallam and Maxey had effectively been duped into arguing the prosecution’s case for them. The barrister representing Brown, Michael Goold, who made his submissions after this, was able to do so on the basis of these altered goalposts and Brown was subsequently acquitted.

The disparity in outcomes in this single trial mirrors those seen in other recent high profile cases. Juries have chosen to acquit some climate defenders while judges have handed down disproportionately lengthy prison sentences to others. The manipulation of legal process by Judge Edmunds in this case forced an otherwise reluctant jury into delivering his desired verdict. This comes as the UN recently condemned as unlawful the escalating repression of environmental defenders globally. [4][5][6]

Roger Hallam commented:

“Humankind is heading for indescribable suffering if we continue to put carbon emissions into the atmosphere. When I die, I want to know I haven’t lived a lie. I cannot pretend I don’t know what needs to happen. Thousands of people need to create mass economic disruption and go to prison in order to force governments to protect their people and enact legislation that will rapidly reduce carbon emissions. Going to prison, losing your job, losing your partner isn’t the end of the world. What is the end of the world, is the end of the world.”

One of those who was sentenced today is Scientist Rebellion co-founder and former Theoretical Physics PhD student, Mike Lynch-White, who said:

“The scientific community has a duty to be honest with the public. Yet in private, they freely admit that keeping warming to the 1.5c limit established at the 2015 Paris agreement is dead and we are out of time to avoid a climate catastrophe. The community says the truth will hinder climate action, but of course the complete opposite is true – only when the public is empowered with the truth will our response truly begin.” 

Tim Crosland, Lawyer and director of the climate justice charity Plan B, which supports climate and land defenders facing prosecution, said:

“This is the first time I have witnessed a judge changing the legal goalposts after the defendants have given both their evidence and closing speeches. It is the first time I have ever heard of anything like this taking place. It is obviously a gross violation of natural justice and the right to a fair trial. It comes amid mounting evidence that, following a pattern of jury acquittals, some judges are manipulating the court process to engineer guilty verdicts for those exposing the government’s climate lies and hypocrisy.”

The sentencing result is expected later this afternoon.


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Notes to Editors:

(1) The ICJ has found there to be plausible grounds that Israel is committing genocide and a Dutch Court ruled that supply of weapons to Israel is unlawful (https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/dutch-court-orders-halt-export-f-35-jet-parts-israel-2024-02-12/).

(1A) See letter to the Supreme Court signed by Sir David King and others: https://planb.earth/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Supreme-Court-Expert-Letter.pdf

(2) Video of two such successful drone flights is available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/mobile/folders/1wNk1s-yqzCOWIFtl8aGCU_7YCmCNTjAP/1djerh8jNzTbY7s29ErNFIxilPQGHfYRw/1GozG-rlaCgeG2BbgdSi9QRwRT2IxyQcY?sort=13&direction=a

(3) The original language of the Judge’s “route to verdict”, prior to its reversal, followed the wording of the legislation on conspiracy. The Criminal Law Act 1977 section 1 set the statutory test for conspiracy as follows:

“… a person agrees with any other person or persons that a course of conduct shall be pursued which, if the agreement is carried out in accordance with their intentions, either (a) will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence or offences by one or more of the parties to the agreement , or (b) would do so but for the existence of facts which render the commission of the offence or any of the offences impossible …”

The original route to verdict reflected this wording. The changed route to verdict directly contradicts this wording.

For a further account of a judge appearing to manipulate the trial process to secure a guilty verdict, see, The Climate Trials (The Ecologist). See also defendourjuries.org.

The judge’s ruling, which led to the changed route to verdict, is available on request.

(4) https://extinctionrebellion.uk/2023/11/16/jury-finds-women-who-broke-hsbc-windows-not-guilty/;

Four Just Stop Oil supporters found Not Guilty, as Judge declares they had lawful excuse to disrupt roads

(5) https://juststopoil.org/2023/12/12/morgan-trowland-released-after-serving-14-months-of-longest-ever-climate-sentence/;


(6) https://unece.org/sites/default/files/2024-01/Aarhus_SR_Env_Defenders_statement_following_visit_to_UK_10-12_Jan_2024.pdf