Black Lives Matter protest near Heathrow led to 'utter chaos'
Arresting officer tells court of travel disruption caused by activists protesting against racism in Britain last summer
Scenes of “utter chaos” were caused by protesters who chained themselves together and blocked a key route to Heathrow at the height of the summer holiday season, a court has been told.
Chanting “black lives matter” and “if they do not give us justice, we won’t give them peace”, they blocked the M4 southbound spur road to the London airport on 5 August at about 8.25am, Willesden magistrates court heard.
There were four protesters who held a large black banner that read “This is a crisis” while six others formed a human chain on the ground. They had linked their arms together using hollowed fire extinguishers filled with wire mesh and concrete.
The nine people in the dock, who said they were Black Lives Matters campaigners, have pleaded not guilty to wilfully obstructing the highway.
The arresting officer, Sgt Christopher Jackson, told the court: “It was utter chaos, to be honest. The first thing my attention was drawn to was a huge amount of stationary traffic on the southbound lanes.
“People were out of their cars shouting at the protesters who were in the road and the people laying on the floor. There were people who seemed to know the protesters but were not involved in it stood on the side of the road. Members of the public were angry and shouting at the protesters.”
Tailbacks had been created and diversions were put in place. Police set up screens to shield the traffic and called in specialist units. It took about two and a half hours to cut the protesters free, the officer said.
The defendants are Sita Balani, 29, of Southwark, south-east London, Liam Barrington-Bush, 32, Aditi Jaganathan, 27, both of Tottenham, north London, Ewa Jasiewicz, 38, of Tower Hamlets, east London, Naomi Mabita, 23, of Manchester, Aadam Muuse, 24, of no fixed abode, Alison Playford, 38, of Greenford, Middlesex, Joshua Virasami, 26, of Hounslow, Middlesex, and Mark Weaver, 36, of Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire.
Another protester, Taylor Offoh, 20, of Penge in south-east London, has already accepted a caution.
Jackson recalled a conversation about 10 minutes after he got to the scene, when he urged the group to halt their protest.
He said: “I pleaded with them that there were children in the cars. I said they had been successful in their protest and to allow the families through. The group chanted ‘black lives matter’.”
On why it was important for the protesters to be moved, Jackson said: “If the people which had stopped on the road had been left there, there were hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people who would have missed their flights.
“They could not get to where they were going to. The accumulative impact would have been huge.” He could not say if any flights had been missed.
Black Lives Matter is an international movement set up in the US after the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012.
It began as a way to unite the African-American community to campaign against violence and systematic racism towards black people.
Nana Owusuh, prosecuting, said the banner was “large, black and could not be seen through”. He said it had been used to “deliberately impede the traffic” and had caused “substantial gridlock”. ■