Extinction Rebellion criticise police response to Luton Airport protest
PUBLISHED: 17:19 22 January 2020 | UPDATED: 07:23 23 January 2020
Extinction Rebellion protesters from St Albans and Luton criticised the “heavy-handed” police response during a demonstration at Luton Airport.
Extinction Rebellion supporters gathered at Luton Airport on Saturday to protest the airport's planned expansion to 32 million passengers per year by 2039.
According to the campaigners, a large police presence within the airport prevented their peaceful leaflet distribution. Several protesters were threatened with arrest if they did not leave immediately, and one was arrested.
An Extinction Rebellion spokesperson said: "We are genuinely shocked by airport management and by the police response on Saturday. Only last week, Luton Borough Council (LBC) declared a climate emergency.
"Luton Airport is wholly owned by the borough council and yet peaceful protesters were prevented from distributing leaflets in the airport to explain the damaging consequence of flying.
"The response by Luton police inside the airport was heavy-handed, needlessly threatening, and clearly in ignorance of the climate emergency declaration.
"Luton Airport management have chosen to wilfully ignore the climate emergency, putting ecosystems and lives at risk. To call on the police to remove peaceful leaflet distributors seeking to raise awareness of the climate emergency is deeply troubling."
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However Extinction Rebellion praised the police's support of their march from the airport to Luton town centre on Saturday afternoon.
An airport spokesperson said: "Climate change is a pressing global issue and we support the right of individuals to protest. However, we do not condone any criminal activity or action which disrupts our passengers' travel plans.
"A space was provided outside the terminal where protestors were able to distribute leaflets, unfurl banners and gather for their march to Luton town hall. Airport byelaws prohibit the distribution of leaflets by any group inside the terminal.
The decision to enforce the byelaws is ultimately a matter for the police."
Insp Alex House, head of Bedfordshire police's Airport Policing Unit, said: "We recognise and respect the right for peaceful protest, and will always do our best to accommodate that, while balancing the impact on airport operations and other members of the public not involved in the protest.
"The force worked closely with London Luton Airport, and its business partners, to provide an area outside of the terminal building for the Extinction Rebellion protestors to ensure that any disruption to other airport users was kept to a minimum.
"One man was arrested, and bailed, for a breach of airport byelaws, which prohibit a variety of activities within the airport footprint. On this occasion he was charged with remaining on the airport, having been requested to leave by an airport official.
"This was after he had attempted to hand out leaflets, which is in contravention of other airport byelaws."