Eco-activists have threatened to “shut down” Heathrow Airport on Good Friday as mass demonstrations in central London look set to enter their fifth day.
The organisers of Extinction Rebellion have called on protesters to converge on the airport tomorrow morning, as thousands of holidaymakers prepare fly off at the start of the Easter Weekend.
Messages in a WhatsApp group for demonstrators even give directions for travelling to the West London airport from the current protest sites at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square.
The group is planning to meet at a petrol station close to Heathrow at 8am, according to messages seen by the Standard.
The airport said it is “working with the authorities” to deal with the threat of protests that could see flights disrupted.
A spokeswoman said: “We are working with the authorities to address any threat of protests which could disrupt the airport.
“While we respect the right to peaceful protest and agree with the need to act on climate change, we don’t agree that passengers should have their well-earned Easter Break holiday plans with family and friends disrupted.
“Passengers should contact their airlines for up to date information on their journeys.”
The development will renew pressure on the Metropolitan Police and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to “get a grip” on the protests, which have paralysed West End traffic since Monday.
Plans to target Heathrow were sent to Whatsapp groups this afternoon on a number linked to activist Robin Boardman, who walked out of an interview with Sky’s Adam Boulton yesterday.
The message read: “We have already achieved so much. We have already done so much. We have totally exceeded our own expectations and are having an unbelievably positive effect on the political landscape. You are all totally wonderful.
“Tomorrow we raise the bar. We are going to shut down Heathrow.
“There is a deep remorse for those whose holiday and family plans will be disrupted tomorrow. It is not our intention to cause further separation. However, the aviation industry needs to be targeted and we are all aware of the deep, structural change that needs to come.”
In a statement confirming the Heathrow plans, the Extinction Rebellion group said: “It may sound frightening but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.
“We’re running out of time but there’s still hope.”
It came as organisers behind the protest, which has brought parts of central London to its knees, said they are prepared to escalate the group’s tactics if their demands “are not met”.
Dr Gail Bradbrook, a co-founder of the group, said demonstrations would continue despite the first people being charged over disruption that has seen activists glue themselves to public transport and block bridges and major roads.
“It’s certainly an option that tactics will be escalated if our demands are not met,” she said.
Asked about whether key sites Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and Parliament Square will remain held for two weeks as planned, she said: “It’s in the hands of the gods really isn’t it? It’s up to whether people respond to the call to come onto the streets.
“More people are joining us all the time. We’re having a fantastic time here. It’s how life is meant to be lived with people coming together and actually exerting their political power.”
The fourth day of protests began with a challenge to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to meet activists at Parliament Square to find a solution to the issue, while police began charging people following 428 arrests since Monday.
Cathy Eastburn, 51, Mark Ovland, 35, and Luke Watson, 29, were remanded in custody over their alleged involvement in obstructing trains at Canary Wharf station on Wednesday morning.
All three indicated a not guilty plea when they appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he wanted police to use the “full force of the law” against protesters who act illegally.
Following a briefing from Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, Mr Javid said everyone had the right to peaceful protest but “I totally condemn any protesters who are stepping outside the boundaries of the law”.
“They have no right to cause misery for the millions of people who are trying to lead their daily lives. Unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.
Meanwhile Sadiq Khan suggested cuts to police funding were restricting the Met’s ability to cope with the demonstrations.
“The Met’s ability to police protests without impacting on core policing priorities – such as tackling knife crime – has been made significantly harder by the huge cuts to Government police funding,” he wrote in a letter to Mr Javid.
He said he would be working with Scotland Yard to consider whether a claim for a special grant from the Home Office would be justified “to compensate for the costs of policing the current protests”.
Also on Thursday, Met Police Commander Jane Connors criticised police officers who were caught on camera dancing with protesters.
She said: “I’m disappointed by the video and the unacceptable behaviour of the officers in it.
“We expect our officers to engage with protesters but clearly their actions fall short of the tone of the policing operation at a time when people are frustrated at the actions of the protesters.”