The Stansted 15 protesters, who stopped a government deportation flight from taking off in March last year, have today been found guilty of breaching terror laws . After 10 weeks the jury found all fifteen defendants guilty of intentional disruption of services and endangerment at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act - a controversial use of terror-related law. The guilty verdict for peaceful protestors, was delivered on International Human Rights day
The Stansted 15 were accused by the government of putting the safety of the airport and passengers at risk, a charge rejected by all 15 defendants. The trial followed a peaceful action which stopped a chartered deportation flight from taking off in March 2017. Sentencing will take place on the week of 4th February 2019.
Responding to the verdict in a statement the Stansted 15 said:
“We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm. The real crime is the government’s cowardly, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights and the unprecedented use of terror law to crack down on peaceful protest. We must challenge this shocking use of draconian legislation, and continue to demand an immediate end to these secretive deportation charter flights and a full independent public inquiry into the government’s ‘hostile environment’.”
“Justice will not be done until we are exonerated and the Home Office is held to account for the danger it puts people in every single day. It endangers people in dawn raids on their homes, at detention centres and on these brutal flights. The system is out of control. It is unfair, unjust and unlawful and it must be stopped.”
Melanie Strickland, one of the defendants, said:
“To be found guilty of a terror-related charge for a peaceful protest is devastating for us, and profoundly disturbing for democracy in this country. It’s the Home Office’s brutal, secretive and barely legal practice of mass deportation flights that is putting people in danger, and their ‘hostile environment’ policy that is hurting vulnerable people from our communities. It’s the Home Office that should have been in the dock, not us.”
A man who was set to be deported on the flight but has since been granted a right to remain in the UK said:
“The Stansted 15 have been found guilty of breaching a barely used terror law. Though the jury were convinced that their actions breached this legislation, there’s no doubt in my mind that these 15 brave people are heroes, not criminals. For me a crime is doing something that is evil, shameful or just wrong - and it’s clear that it is the actions of the Home Office tick all of these boxes - and the Stansted 15 were trying to stop the real crime being committed.
‘As the Stansted 15 face their own purgatory - awaiting sentences in the following weeks - I will be praying that they are shown leniency. Without their actions I would have missed my daughter’s birth, and faced the utter injustice of being deported from this country with having my now successful appeal heard. My message to them today is to fight on. Their cause is just, and history will absolve you of the guilt that the system has marked you with.’
Raj Chada, Partner from Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented all 15 of the defendants said:
“We are deeply disappointed by today’s verdicts. In our view it is inconceivable that our clients were charged under counter terrorism legislation for what was a just protest against deporting asylum seekers. Hodge Jones & Allen previously represented 13 defendants who protested at Heathrow in similar circumstances to the 15 at Stansted, yet they were not charged with this draconian legislation. We believe this was an abuse of power by the Attorney General and the CPS as they should never have been charged with these offences. The fact is that the actions of these protestors resulted in two people who were about to be wrongfully deported remaining in the UK.”
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Photos of the Stansted 15 can be found here on Getty Images, or via photographer Kristian Buus.
Helen Brewer, Lyndsay Burtonshaw, Nathan Clack, Laura Clayson, Mel Evans, Joseph McGahan, Benjamin Smoke, Jyotsna Ram, Nicholas Sigsworth, Alistair Tamlit, Edward Thacker, Emma Hughes, May McKeith, Ruth Potts and Melanie Stickland were charged with intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, a law passed in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that has only been used once before in 28 years. The maximum sentence under the terror-related law is life in prison. The defendants, aged 27 to 44, all pleaded not guilty to the charge.
One woman’s former husband had threatened to kill her on arrival in Nigeria, because of her sexuality.
One man had threatened to commit suicide because he had no friends or family in Nigeria.
At least two people who were supposed to be on the plane have since been identified as trafficking victims.
These are just the stories the defendants knew about. There are countless examples of people being sent to countries where they are at risk of serious harm, even death.
The people on the plane risked verbal and physical abuse from the security guards accompanying them. Independent observers have witnessed racist and misogynist abuse, and excessive use of force by guards, and that was when there were observers on the plane. This kind of abuse appears to be the rule, rather than the exception.
There is ongoing concern about the use of restraint. Waist restraints that are only supposed to be used in exceptional circumstances appear to be the norm. In 2017, HM Chief Inspectors found that 74 staff used restraints on 22 out of 23 people on a flight to France and Bulgaria, and all 60 people were restrained on a flight to Germany.
One man, who was due to be on the flight was able to return to his partner, who was already in labour, for the birth of their child. He has now been granted leave to remain so can stay with his family.
Eleven people are still in the country and continuing their appeals because the flight was stopped, at least two are victims of trafficking.
When the defendants stopped the plane, the Home Office were deporting people who were victims of trafficking, when the courts had told them not to.
When the defendants stopped the plane, the Home Office were denying people their right to appeal through a policy of ‘Deport first, appeal later’ which the Supreme Court ruled was illegal shortly after the flight the defendants stopped.
End Deportations is a campaign to stop the brutal, secretive and barely legal practice of deporting large groups of people using charter flights. We need to ask serious questions about the brutal and inhumane detention system.