Extinction Rebellion protesters arrested at London City airport

Damien Gayle
Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

Dozens of Extinction Rebellion protesters have staged a sit-down protest at an entrance to London City airport.

Protesters chanted “fly today, gone tomorrow” as they sat at the exit of the airport’s Docklands Light Railway station, blocked by a line of police from entering the airport, just after 9am on Thursday.

Even before the protest began, security guards were demanding to see boarding passes before allowing anyone access.

Police were picking up protesters and carrying them away, but some had glued themselves to the floor and to each other. A witness said two women had been arrested earlier as they arrived at the scene.

The protest is against the climate impact of flying and the government’s support for airport expansion. Rupert Read, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion, said: “By non-violently shutting down this airport, in homage to the style of the Hong Kong democracy protesters, we are demonstrating the utter frailty of the transport systems that countries such as ours, unwisely, have come to depend upon.”

The group said hundreds of people had signed up to take part in the protest and were willing to risk being arrested.

One protester, Val Saunders, 65, from Stroud, said: “We got off the coach today, we looked around, it’s like HG Wells. All this infrastructure, all these airports, they are just spreading out more and more. It’s just encouraging people to fly more. It’s going in the wrong direction, this government.

“I’m so angry. If we keep going with expansions, there is no future. [The protest is] a way of telling people: yeah, this is the right thing to do, this is the way to go, we need more and more – no, we need less, we need to stock-take what we have. We need to reassess. We need to use some of the money, those billions that go into expansions, put that into alternative energy.”

Police attempted to clear journalists from the scene before leading and carrying people away from the protest one by one.

An officer said authorities wanted to create a “sterile area”. He said he had the power to order journalists to leave because it was private property covered by bylaws governing access.

One man appeared in pain as he was moved by officers towards a staircase. Among those carried down the steps was Frank Benatt, 78, from Totnes. Minutes earlier, asked if he was afraid to be arrested, he said: “I think really this is minimal. I’m approaching 80 and I’m disposable and I’ve had a very good life. Unlike lots of young people, I haven’t got commitments.

“I don’t know how they cope actually with the threat. What the science tells one is that within 10 or perhaps 20 years, there might well be a breakdown of society, with all that implies. I think for young people that’s a huge threat, they can only tackle that by being in a state of denial about it.”

Flights appeared to be operating as normal. A spokesman for the airport said: “We can confirm that a number of protesters have arrived at London City airport.

“We continue to work closely with the Metropolitan police to ensure the safe operation of the airport, which remains fully open and operational. As of 9.15am, there have been over 60 flights which have either arrived or departed.

“If you are flying from London City today, please check the status of your flight with your airline before travelling to the airport.”

However, a flight to Dublin was grounded after a protester onboard stood up to speak about the climate crisis as the plane was due to take off.

Hundreds of officers are being drafted in from across England and Wales to help the Metropolitan police deal with a third day of protests in London.

In Westminster, tents and protesters have been cleared away from roads leading to Parliament Square, but streets around parliament and Whitehall remained closed to traffic.

At Trafalgar Square, tents, banners and a hearse still blocked roads, and a protest camp occupied the pedestrian area of the square. More protesters were camped in dozens of tents in St James’s Park.