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Stansted 15 activists avoid jail after blocking deportation flight

Fifteen activists have avoided immediate jail sentences after blocking a UK government-chartered deportation flight taking off from Stansted Airport in 2017.

Posted: Feb 6, 2019 7:50 PM
Updated: Feb 6, 2019 7:50 PM

Fifteen activists have avoided immediate jail sentences after blocking a UK government-chartered deportation flight taking off from Stansted Airport in 2017.

The group cut through the airport's perimeter fence using bolt croppers and secured themselves to one another beneath the plane, using pipes, chains and expandable building foam, in March 2017.

Their actions prevented the aircraft from taking off. It had been due to fly 60 people, whose immigration status had been ruled illegal, to Nigeria and Ghana.

READ: Stansted 15 save migrants from deportation

The protesters say 11 people who were due to be on the flight have subsequently been allowed to stay in the UK and appeal their cases; two were victims of human trafficking.

The group's members -- who became known as the "Stansted 15" -- were found guilty in December of endangering safety at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, a law brought in after the Lockerbie bombing.

Three of the activists were given suspended jail sentences, while the remaining 12 were handed community orders, according to the UK's Press Association.

The defendants, aged between 27 and 44, were facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.

"We are relieved we're not going to prison, but these terror convictions and the 10-week trial that have led to them are an injustice and have profound implications for all of our lives," the activists said after the sentence.

"The convictions will drastically limit our ability to work, to travel and to take part in everyday life."

However they added that some migrants in the UK face "much worse," adding: "They are placed in destitution, they are treated like prisoners ... their lives are placed in limbo."

Edward Thacker, Melanie Strickland and Alistair Tamlit, who were handed suspended jail sentences, had previous convictions of aggravated trespass for participating in a climate change protest at Heathrow Airport in 2015, PA reported.

Unless they are traveling, all 15 of the activists are barred from Stansted Airport for 12 months.

In a statement, prosecutor Chris Long from the UK's Crown Prosecution Service said charges were chosen to "reflect the seriousness and extent" of offenders' actions.

He added: "The charge used in this case applies to those who intentionally disrupt service at an aerodrome regardless of their motivation.

"It has never been suggested these defendants are terrorists and they were not prosecuted under terrorism legislation."

Protest 'could have had catastrophic effects'

Judge Christopher Morgan told the defendants, who appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court on Wednesday, that usually only a "normal custodial sentence would have been justified" but said he accepted the group's "intentions were to demonstrate," according to PA.

He added that the protest resulted in losses of more than £1 million for the airport, and said the activists could have caused serious harm, especially when they they unfurled a banner which read "No one is illegal."

"That plane had been fueled and the consequences of metal striking and going through that wing could have resulted in a catastrophic fire," Morgan said.

Hundreds of people attended Chelmsford Crown Court in northeast London to support the group. Some carried signs that read: "deportation flights kill" and "non-violent resistance is not terrorism" while others chanted "We are with you Stansted 15."

In a statement, Amnesty International expressed relief that none of the activists would have to spend time in jail, but reiterated that "they should never have faced this very serious terrorism-related charge in the first place."

The organization's UK director, Kate Allen, added that the convictions do not "fit their actions" and "could have a dangerous chilling effect on peaceful protest" in the UK.

Speaking to CNN prior to the sentencing, the activists' lawyer Raj Chada, from Hodge, Jones & Allen, said an appeal had already been submitted, "irrespective" of the outcome of Wednesday's hearing, arguing that the group's convictions would have "a chilling effect on the right to free speech."

Chadha said the protests were "important because if people genuinely do think that government deportation policy needs to be changed and pressure needs to be put on commercial airlines not to carry deportees, then why shouldn't they protest? Why shouldn't they show their frustration? ... That's really important that we keep hold of that."

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