A BOLTON theatre director whose son chained himself to a fence on an airport runway has spoken of his relief after he avoided an immediate prison sentence.

David Thacker said he was pleased Edward and 12 other climate change protestors were handed suspended prison sentences – but said he believed 'justice has not been done'.

He claimed that District Judge Deborah Wright had treated the 13 protestors with 'sadistic cruelty' and 'spiteful vindictiveness'.

She previously told them it was 'almost inevitable' that they would be jailed for their role in the incident, which happened at about 3.45am last year.

About 92,000 passengers at Heathrow were affected by delays or cancellations as a result of their crimes of aggravated trespass and entering a restricted area of an aerodrome.

Mr Thacker Snr, who stepped away from his main role at the Octagon Theatre last year to become professor of theatre at the University of Bolton, was in London to hear of his son's fate.

Climate change campaigners also attended to support the group, as did MPs John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas.

After the hearing, Mr Thacker Snr said: "As their brilliant advocate Kirsty Brimelow QC made clear, a custodial sentence, suspended or otherwise, is an entirely inappropriate and disproportionate sentence as historical precedence and the integrity and exemplary character of all of the activists, makes 100 per cent clear.

"Their peaceful direct action is in a long tradition of such action and falls, under any definition of justice, well below the custodial threshold.

"I am outraged that these wonderful people should have been treated with such sadistic cruelty, spiteful vindictiveness and callous inhumanity over the last month by District Judge Deborah Wright and all those who have influenced her decision."

Mr Thacker Snr said it had been a 'rollercoaster month', following the trial in which the 13 protestors were convicted at Willesden Magistrates Court in London.

He said it was particularly emotional for him to have to see his 26-year-old son pack a bag and prepare for a potential prison sentence.

Mr Thacker Snr said: "If you watched Edward packing his bags the night before the sentencing or saw him researching websites like 'first time in prison' so that he would be properly prepared, you would better understand some of what they had all been put through by this cruel and unpleasant judge.

"And to watch as each of them hugged their parents and family as they said goodbye, immediately before going into the dock, was deeply moving.

"And for them to have to repeat the process after the lunch adjournment put a further strain on all their very fragile emotions. Justice has not been done, and these suspended custodial sentences are the thin end of the wedge to crack down on peaceful direct action in the future."

Edward Thacker and the other 12 protestors were sentenced to six seeks prison suspended for a year, and were ordered not to go within 500m of any terminal at Heathrow Airport or to go within 5m of the perimeter fence.

Thacker, who had no previous convictions, was also ordered to complete 120 hours of unpaid work in the next 12 months.