Climate change protesters planning to fly toy drones at Heathrow Airport tomorrow have been warned they could face life in jail.
Heathrow Pause – a splinter of the Extinction Rebellion movement – has said it intends to fly the machines in the 3.1-mile (5km) exclusion zone around the transport hub on Friday, potentially disrupting hundreds of flights.
The action is meant to ground flights and put pressure on the government to take tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions.
But the Metropolitan Police has warned protesters they could be handed life sentences if they are found to be endangering the lives of passengers.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “We will be arresting anybody who commits unlawful offences.
“We are really clear that it is unlawful, it is a criminal offence, and anybody who turns up expecting to fly drones in that exclusion zone will be arrested.”
Frontline officers have been drafted in from areas outside of London to boost numbers tackling the protest.
A meeting was held between Heathrow Pause activists and the Met Police earlier this week to discuss Friday’s action.
Mr Taylor reassured passengers that the force is working hard to minimise any potential disruption and urged them to travel to the airport as normal.
He said: “I’m really confident in the plans we’ve got in place, the level of resource and the tactics available to us, and we obviously take passenger safety incredibly seriously.
“I would urge people to come on Friday because we’re going to do everything we can to prevent any disruption and I am confident we will be successful in that.”
Heathrow Airport has said it will work to stay open during the planned drone disruption.
It has told protesters that flying a drone within 3.1 miles of the airport is illegal and said anyone caught doing so would be subject to “the full force of the law”.
The planned protest comes after one of Heathrow’s terminals was described as a “ghost town” earlier this week when British Airways pilots staged a 48-hour strike in a row over pay, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled.
Climate change activists have held a number of disruptive protests this year.
Most notable was the shutdown of a number of sites in central London in April by Extinction Rebellion, including Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge.
Mr Taylor urged the protesters to consider their impact on the public.
He said: “Having to arrest hundreds of people is a huge demand, not just on the police, but on the justice system. It’s very costly.
“We would urge protesters to consider that wider and considerable impact.
“People absolutely have the right to protest, but that can’t be at the expense of thousands of other people.”
Heathrow Pause said it has “no choice” but to carry out the action and invited Prime Minister Boris Johnson to join the protest.
The group said: “The current prime minister is on record for saying his opposition to Heathrow expansion is so profound that he would ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’.
“We invite Boris Johnson to join us in flying a drone and showing his commitment to stopping Heathrow expansion and addressing the climate and ecological emergency.”