Protesters urged by police to reconsider airport disruption plans

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Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport. Culprits behind the drone chaos at Gatwick had an insight into how the airport was reacting to the incident, its head of operations has said.

Police have pleaded with climate change protesters not to disrupt the country’s busiest airport after warning them of the drain on the force’s resources.

The Metropolitan Police said Tuesday’s planned action at Heathrow Airport by Extinction Rebellion (XR) had the potential to cause “widespread disruption” and urged activists not to use drones in an effort to suspend flights.

It follows the chaos caused by mystery culprits at Gatwick Airport over three days in December, when drone sightings resulted in around 1,000 flights being grounded, affecting 140,000 passengers.

Extinction Rebellion protests
A drone flying in Hanworth Park in west London, as a British Airways 747 plane prepares to land at Heathrow Airport (John Stillwell/PA)

In a plea to protesters, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “As we have seen, the illegal use of drones at airports also has the capability to cause great disruption to the public, not only in London, but internationally.

“We will be deploying resources, both in terms of officers and equipment, to monitor the airspace around Heathrow and quickly detect and disrupt any illegal drone activity.

“While it is our duty to deliver an appropriate plan for this protest, I want to make clear the impact this kind of activity has on frontline policing.

“This has the potential to cause widespread disruption, and in order to prevent this happening we have drawn vital police resources from across the capital.

“We would urge anybody intending to join this event with a view to committing criminal activity, whether considered peaceful or not, to strongly reconsider.

Extinction Rebellion protests
Extinction Rebellion protesters demonstrate outside Lewisham station, South East London, on Friday (Caitlin Doherty/PA)

“Protests of this nature can cause significant disruption to people, but I want to reassure the public that we have a very experienced command team in place for this operation.

“We will work hard to keep you as informed as possible throughout.”

A Heathrow Airport spokeswoman said it was aware of the planned protests and would be working with authorities to address any potential disruption.

She added: “This is reckless action that if carried out could endanger the lives of the travelling public and our colleagues.

“We agree with the need to act on climate change, but that requires us to work together constructively, not commit serious criminal offences.”

The protesters announced last month they were intending to stage several days of non-violent action at Heathrow over plans to expand the airport.

A statement said: “This is not about targeting the public, but holding the Government to their duty to take leadership on the climate and ecological emergency.

“The addition of the planned third runway would make Heathrow the single biggest carbon emitter in the UK, to expand the airport at this critical point in history would be madness.”

XR said it would release updated details about the protest on Sunday.

The Ministry of Defence introduced detection systems capable of being deployed across the UK to combat the threat of drones in the wake of the Gatwick fiasco.

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