Six women and seven men have avoided jail for trespassing at Heathrow, following a protest against the possible expansion of the airport.
The activists, dubbed the Heathrow 13, were given sentences of six weeks suspended for 12 months, meaning they would not have to go to prison immediately.
They had been found guilty in January of aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted area of an aerodrome. They had been warned by district judge Deborah Wright to expect a custodial sentence.
During the trial at Willesden magistrates court in north-west London, the defendants had argued that their actions were reasonable, proportionate and necessary to prevent death and serious injury via air pollution and climate change, saying that 31 people a year die prematurely around Heathrow due to its pollution, and thousands die due to the effects of climate change.
They had also been backed by John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP – who both said jailing the group would be a mistake.
Sentencing the 13 on Wednesday, Wright said: “It was very clear your stated intention was to cause as much disruption as possible. You have achieved your aim.” She said the protest led to 25 flights being cancelled and that “each and every one of those people who had their journeys disrupted was a victim of your actions”.
Wright said she was impressed by the defendants’ good character and commitment. However, she said “the fact that you are principled and have strong views about public interest doesn’t mean you can break the law”.
A loud cheer went up as the defendants left the dock. Outside the court, one of them, Danielle Paffard, said: “I’m so relieved. It’s a triumph for democracy, a triumph for the movement.” She said that while the sentence meant she was banned from Heathrow for a year, others would continue protesting against the third runway.