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Today's Top News
Minister Met BAA Chief Executive before Climate Camp to Discuss Tactics
A government minister met the chief executive of the UK's largest airport owner in private to discuss how to "limit" the impact of climate change protests directed against the firm, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
Jim Fitzpatrick, then a transport minister, met the head of BAA a week before Climate Camp protesters held peaceful demonstrations at Heathrow airport.
At the time Fitzpatrick was receiving regular "situation reports" about the protesters. In one, he was told: "It is thought that key members of the camp are getting more frustrated as things are not going as they would have liked. The landowner is against them. The police are frustrating the movement."
The memos and other Department for Transport (DfT) documents, released under freedom of information law, show the Metropolitan force discussed plans to police the camp with BAA and civil servants. When Fitzpatrick met BAA's chief executive at the time, Stephen Nelson, "the minister was assured that BAA and [the] Met had been working closely to limit any disruption to the airport".
Environmental campaigners said the disclosures were further evidence that the government, police and big business had conspired against their activities.
"These documents reveal that BAA and the transport department agreed a joint communications strategy before the Heathrow camp, begging the question - just what part did Whitehall play in the smear campaign that sought to undermine the protest? A picture is emerging of an extraordinary and unhealthy culture of collusion between a government department, private companies and the police," said Ben Stewart, of Greenpeace.
The Guardian revealed in April how, before last year's Climate Camp against the proposed coal-fired power station in Kingsnorth, Kent, civil servants from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform handed confidential police intelligence on activists to E.ON, the owner of the plant.
The latest disclosures include internal DfT documents on the Heathrow protest in 2007 - after which activists complained of "heavy-handed" policing - and reveal that meetings took place at the highest level of business and government before and during that Climate Camp.
The DfT drew up plans to deal with the event weeks before it began, on 14 August 2007. Senior officials were told in July that "regular communication was being maintained with key parties". Internal reports reveal, further, that the Met tried to use "the current terrorism threat" to persuade activists to cancel the event.
When it was realised the event would go ahead, corporate interests in the airline industry, including British Airways, Virgin and BMI, were invited to comment on the policing plan. The transport minister was assured that police and BAA executives had collaborated "closely" to contain the demonstrations; his department was "in regular contact ... with BAA and police and discussed their operational plans for the duration of the camp".
A BAA spokesman has told the Guardian: "I think most observers would think it entirely right and sensible that we discussed [Heathrow's] ... uninterrupted operation with government and others."
The DfT stated: "It is nonsense to suggest that the DfT influenced the policing of this demonstration."