The 15 activists who stopped a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport have been told they will not go to prison.
The Stansted 15, all members of the End Deportations campaign group, came into the public eye after they were convicted of terror-related offences for their actions at Stansted in March 2017. They temporarily brought Stansted to a standstill by chaining themselves to a Home Office-chartered plane, which was set to deport its 60 passengers from the UK to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
The activists were initially charged with aggravated trespass, a charge that was bumped up to ‘intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome’. At that time one of the group, May MacKeith, told talkRADIO that the use of these charges against protesters was “unprecedented”, adding: "The danger that was being faced was not by the airport, but the people who were on that flight and due to be deported to countries where people feared for their lives."
After a nine-week trial, the 15 were found guilty of the terror offence, which was introduced after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. Human rights campaigners condemned the conviction, with Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, describing the verdict as a “crushing blow for human rights in the UK”.
A conviction of the intentional disruption of an aerodrome can potentially result in a life sentence in prison. Today (6 February), the activists were sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court – and all avoided jail time. Edward Thacker, Alistair Tamlit and Melanie Strickland were given nine-month jail sentences, suspended for 18 months, while the remaining 12 were sentenced to 12-month community orders.
Judge Christopher Morgan commented that their actions would “ordinarily result in custodial sentences” but that they “didn’t have a grievous intent as some may do who commit this type of crime”. However, he said that the actions had presented a danger to the airport, which the activists do not acknowledge, and so they would not receive a conditional discharge.
Commenting on the sentencing, Amnesty International said that the activists “remain convicted of an offence which simply doesn’t fit their actions”, adding: “This trial could have a dangerous chilling effect on peaceful protest in this country.”
Large crowds gathered outside the court as the activists were sentenced. Jonathan Bartley, Co-leader of the Green Party, welcomed the news that the Stansted 15 would be avoiding jail, but said: “They should never have been in the dock in the first place. These activists are human rights defenders – the real criminals are the Home Office. The treatment of the Stansted 15 has been unprecedented and wrong from the start.
“The actions of the Stansted 15 exposed the brutality of secretive charter flights, and a number of people set to be removed from the UK on that plane have been able to remain in the UK safely as a result of their principled actions.
“We need root and branch reform of our immigration system with an end to the use of charter flights for deportations immediately.”
The Stansted 15 will be appealing their conviction.