BAA, the UK airports operator, on Monday secured a partial victory in its attempt to stop a planned climate change protest disrupting activity at Heathrow Airport, following a three-day battle in the High Court.
Mrs Justice Swift imposed an injunction against unlawful direct action at the demonstration, due to take place next week, although she rejected the broader restrictions on protesters initially demanded by Heathrow.
The planned protest – during a peak holiday period at one of the world’s busiest airports – comes at a sensitive time for BAA, whose services have been heavily criticised by airlines and passengers.
Mark Bullock, managing director of BAA Heathrow, which is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, said the company had sought the injunction for the “safety and comfort” of the 1.5m passengers who it is estimated will pass through the airport during the week of the camp.
“We accept that there is an important debate to be had regarding climate change,” Mr Bullock said. “The motivation behind the injunction was to protect our passengers and staff from being harassed or obstructed by any unlawful direct action.”
Mrs Justice Swift said her order was meant to “allow the airport to continue to function” and to stop the emergency services being distracted from their duties to protect the public, especially against terrorist action.
“There is a risk that a terrorist group might use the disruption caused by the protesters to perpetrate an attack on the airport, with disastrous consequences,” she said.
Mrs Justice Swift stressed her order was “nothing like as wide-ranging” as the one sought by the airport against the campaigners and groups it targeted as defendants. She limited the injunction to members and associates of one the groups, known as Plane Stupid, which she said was the only one likely to be involved in illegal direct action.
Gita Parihar, a lawyer for the defendants, said the narrow scope of the court’s decision showed BAA could not use its “corporate muscle to stop people from engaging in lawful, peaceful protest on issues such as climate change”.
The case focused on the Camp for Climate action week planned for August 14-21, at which environmental campaigners and local residents’ groups aim to highlight the noise disturbance, air pollution and damage to wildlife caused by the airport.
The court case is the latest in a series that are defining the limits of protests against companies in industries such as arms, vivisection and genetically modified crops.
Mrs Justice Swift based her limited injunction on by-laws in force around the airport, rejecting the argument for a broader clampdown using anti-stalking laws.
Companies have used these anti-harassment laws on more than a dozen occasions against animal rights activists but critics say the rules were never designed to curtail protest such as in the Heathrow case.
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