'Stansted 15' protesters have convictions overturned

'Stansted 15' protesters have convictions overturned

‘Stansted 15’ protesters who stopped a flight trying to deport 60 criminals to Africa have convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal

  • Group cut through airport’s perimeter fence and locked themselves together 
  • 767 jet transporting people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Africa 
  • Were convicted in December 2018 before all 15 avoided jail in February 2019 
  • Successfully appealed convictions under Aviation and Maritime Security Act
  • Judges agreed that legislation preserved for terrorists rather than protesters 

The Stansted 15 have today had their convictions overturned after they grounded a flight due to deport 60 criminals to Africa. 

The group cut through the Essex airport’s perimeter fence in March 2017 and locked themselves together around a Boeing 767 jet chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Africa.

It took airport security and police more than an hour to remove the activists before they were arrested in the late-night incident which saw flights to Stansted diverted including arrivals from Ibiza, Warsaw, Belfast, Bilbao, Murcia, Dublin and Berlin.

Those due to have been removed from Britain included 25 criminals who had been imprisoned for offences including murder, child rape and grievous bodily harm. 

The ‘Stansted 15’ were convicted at Chelmsford Crown Court in December 2018 of an offence arising out of the March 2017 incident. Three were given suspended jail sentences and the other 12 were handed community orders.

But today they had those convictions for endangering the safety of an aerodrome overturned after judges agreed it is meant for terrorists rather than protesters. 

In a judgment published on Friday, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, sitting with Mr Justice Jay and Mrs Justice Whipple, axed the Stansted 15’s convictions.

The group locked themselves together around a Boeing 767 jet chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Africa in March 2017 (above)

The group smiled as they posed for pictures after chaining themselves together in March 2017

Lord Burnett said the protestors ‘should not have been prosecuted for the extremely serious offence … because their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence. There was, in truth, no case to answer.’

Law that the activists were convicted under

The 15 protesters were convicted two years ago of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, contrary to section 1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act (Amse) 1990.

The 15 protesters were convicted two years ago of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, contrary to section 1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act (Amse) 1990.

The law states that is an ‘offence for any person by means of any device, substance or weapon unlawfully and intentionally’ to ‘disrupt the services of such an aerodrome, in such a way as to endanger or be likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome’.

The legislation was introduced soon after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

The activists’ lawyers claim the law was ‘introduced in order to enact into domestic legislation the provisions of an international counter-terrorism convention, which is terror related and in our view should not have been used against peaceful protesters’.

The Amse law was used mostly recently to detain seven people after military forces stormed an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight last month.

They were arrested on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force.

In documents before the court, the Stansted 15’s barristers argued this law is intended to deal with violence of the ‘utmost seriousness’, such as terrorism, not demonstrators.

They argued that Amsa is not concerned with risks of ‘a health and safety-type nature’ posed by those who have trespassed at an airport without causing or intending to pose ‘a direct risk of endangerment’ to the operation of the airport, or people there.

The papers said that, instead, the law relates to ‘an offence of unlawful violence of the utmost seriousness, directed at individuals who intentionally and unlawfully deploy offensive devices, substances and/or weapons, intending by that deployment to disrupt airport services in such a way as to endanger or to be likely to endanger the safe operation of the airport as a whole or the safety of the body of persons at such airport.’

Lawyers for the group also argued that the Attorney General – who is required to sign off on the use of this legislation – should not have granted consent for the law to be used in this case, that the Crown Court judge, Judge Christopher Morgan, made errors in summing up the case, and there were errors in directions given to the jury.

In their written argument, barristers representing the Crown said the convictions are safe and that the trial judge was correct.

For the Crown, Tony Badenoch QC told the court: ‘We don’t accept that the Act is constrained to terrorism and nothing else.’

The plane had been chartered by the Home Office to remove 60 people to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Those due to be removed included 25 criminals who had been imprisoned in UK jails for serious offences including  murder, rape of a minor and grievous bodily harm.

At the time of the planned charter flight, no individuals on the flight had any outstanding legal claims that would have prevented their removal. 

Of the original 60 individuals, 49 were subsequently removed and 11 individuals – including six foreign national offenders – currently remain in the UK following or pending appeal. 

Figures in court papers said that as of March 2019, 11 of the deportees on the flight grounded by the protest group’s actions were still in the UK, with two confirmed as victims of modern day slavery and a third granted asylum on human rights grounds.

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