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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 19 January 2021

Police arrest five people over plans to shut down Heathrow airport with drones

A campaign by Heathrow Pause – an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion – was planned for this morning.

Protesters planned to fly drones at the airport early this morning.
Protesters planned to fly drones at the airport early this morning.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

POLICE IN LONDON have arrested five people after climate activists made plans to fly a toy drone around Heathrow airport in a bid to shut down Europe’s busiest airport. 

A campaign by Heathrow Pause – an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion group backed by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg – had been set to kick off shortly before the international airport opened at 4:30am today. 

The plans were thwarted, however, when police arrested five of its leading members on Thursday “on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance”.

The first flights from Asia arrived at Heathrow on schedule.

“Like-minded citizens just know that what we are doing is not a criminal act,” group member Sylvia Dell said.

The retired mother-of-four said she was stirred to action by a United Nations report warning governments in October they had 12 years left to stop the earth from warming to dangerous levels.

“We’re the fire alarm ringing in the middle of the night telling people to wake up, your house is on fire,” Dell said.

The campaigners’ official aim is to prevent construction of a third Heathrow runway and to cut harmful gas emissions to a net level of zero by 2025.

Last year, and in April this year, Gatwick airport came to a standstill after drones were spotted flying close to the runway. 

Heathrow rules stipulate that it must temporarily close should a drone be spotted within its five-kilometre exclusion zone.

Other members of the group said they would continue to fly drones over the coming days.

An airport spokeswoman said Heathrow airport agreed “with the need to act on climate change” but condemned the campaigners’ methods.

“We are disappointed that they plan to continue flying drones. It is counter-productive and criminal,” the spokeswoman said.

London police arrested three men and two women on Thursday to prevent “criminal activity that could significantly impact on a major piece of national infrastructure”.

Heathrow Pause said two of them were handcuffed after demonstrating drone flights outside the exclusion zone to a reporting crew.

Dell said she faced “years” in jail because of two prior arrests during an Extinction Rebellion protest that ground parts of London to a halt for more than a week in April.

“Prison is a terrifying prospect,” she said.

But “I find the prospect of not acting and allowing the world to collapse – that’s more terrifying for me.”

Heathrow flies more than 200,000 passengers daily on around 1,300 flights.

© AFP 2019 

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