Supporters celebrate as #Stansted15 avoid jail time

Activists arrested after chaining themselves to a deportation flight are likely to receive suspended sentences and community service

- Activists were arrested under anti-terrorism legislation after disrupting a deportation flight in March 2017

- The defendants attracted the support of civil liberties campaigners and critics of UK Government immigration policy

- The Stansted 15 have called for their convictions to be quashed in a public statement

THE ‘STANSTED 15’, a group of activists who chained themselves to a Stansted airport deportation flight in March 2017, will not be sentenced to jail time, according to reports from Chelmsford Crown Court.

Christopher Morgan, the judge overseeing the case of the 15 activists – convicted on 10 December after a ten-week trial under anti-terrorism legislation - has indicated that their culpability is not high enough to warrant immediate custody, even in the cases of those previously given suspended sentences for prior involvement in an environmental protest.

Morgan said: “In relation to the three defendants – Thacker, Tamlit and Strickland – their culpability is higher than the others because of the previous conviction,” Morgan said. “It passes the custody threshold, but in my judgment is doesn’t pass the threshold for immediate custody.”

 

 

 

The nine women and six men involved in the Stansted action breached the airport’s security fence with bolt cutters before gaining access to a restricted area, where they locked their arms in tubing to obstruct the wheel of a Boeing 747 due to deport 60 people to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone on 28 March, 2017. After refusing police demands to detach themselves and leave, the activists were subsequently arrested.

“We demand that these convictions are quashed, and that the Government dismantles the vicious, barely legal, immigration system that destroys so many people’s lives.” The Stansted 15

Since their arrest, the Stansted 15 have gained considerable public support from opponents of the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy on immigration, particularly in light of a possible maximum sentence of life in prison for endangering the safety of an aerodrome.

As the activists appeared in court for sentencing today, hundreds of supporters rallied outside the court from 8.30am, blocking the road and chanting “Stansted 15, we are with you.”

Responding to the judge’s indications, the defendants have publicly demanded that their convictions are quashed, and have called on the UK Government to dismantle what they described as a “vicious immigration system”.

“The excessive charges brought in this case were an attack on the right to protest that threatens activists, campaigners and anyone who cares about the need for dissent.” Liberty acting director Corey Stoughton

In a statement, the Stansted 15 said: “These terror convictions and the ten-week trial that led to them are an injustice that has profound implications for our lives. The convictions will drastically limit our ability to work, travel and take part in everyday life. Yet, people seeking asylum in this country face worse than this: they are placed in destitution and their lives in limbo, by the Home Office’s vicious system every single day.

“When a country uses draconian terror legislation against people for peaceful protest, snatches others from their homes in dawn raids, incarcerates them without time limit and forces them onto planes in the middle of the night, due to take them to places where their lives might be at risk, something is very seriously wrong. Every single one of us should be very worried about our democracy and our future.”

“We demand that these convictions are quashed, and that the Government dismantles the vicious, barely legal, immigration system that destroys so many people’s lives.”

READ MORE: Stansted 15 solidarity protest in Glasgow set to mark International Migrants Day

Raj Chada, Partner from Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented all 15 of the defendants, said: “While we are relieved that none of our clients face a custodial sentence, today is still a sad day for justice. Our clients prevented individuals being illegally removed from the UK and should never have been charged under counter terrorism legislation. We maintain that this was an abuse of power by the Attorney General and the CPS and will continue to fight in the appeal courts to get these wrongful convictions overturned.”

The announcement that the group will not face jail time follows an intervention from the human and civil rights organisation Liberty, the acting director of which wrote to Morgan last week urging him to “carefully consider issues of proportionality” in sentencing the protestors.

The letter continued: “Where protesters break the law, but do not commit violent acts, we suggest care should be taken in order to ensure that their rights at common law and under articles 10 and 11 or the European convention on human rights (ECHR) are not breached.

“The excessive charges brought in this case were an attack on the right to protest that threatens activists, campaigners and anyone who cares about the need for dissent.”

As Liberty notes, Article 10 of the ECHR guarantees freedom of expression, including peaceful protests, while Article 11 protests freedoms of assembly and association.

“The decision not to jail these brave human rights defenders is a relief, but not enough. They should never have faced this very serious terrorism-related charge in the first place.” Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen commented on the sentencing news, saying: “The decision not to jail these brave human rights defenders is a relief, but not enough. They should never have faced this very serious terrorism-related charge in the first place.

“They remain convicted of an offence which simply doesn’t fit their actions and this trial could have a dangerous chilling effect on peaceful protest in this country. 

“We hope the court of appeal will swiftly put an end to the distressing ordeal that the Stansted 15 have faced for nearly two years.”

A spokesperson for the End Deportations campaign also commented: “Whatever the sentence handed down by Judge Christopher Morgan, the terror convictions have profound implications for the lives of the Stansted 15, severely restricting their ability to work, travel and take part in everyday life.

“The convictions themselves are the first use of controversial terror legislation passed in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing against peaceful protesters and, whatever happens with the sentencing, they have profound implications for the right to peaceful protest in the UK, and for democracy.”

Picture courtesy of Paul Robertson

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