A jury in Chelmsford has found 15 activists guilty of a terrorism-related offence. They responded to a “call for help” and are now facing life imprisonment. The court has adjourned for reports and the defendants are due to be sentenced in February.
The 15 locked themselves together to prevent a chartered deportation flight taking off from Stansted airport. The flight was taking people to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. 11 of the people due to be deported that day are still in the UK.
Following a nine week trial, the defendants were found guilty of intentional disruption of services and endangerment at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act.
One of the defendants, Melanie Strickland, said the verdict was “devastating”:
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.
The 15 stand by their actions and believe they are “guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm”. They added:
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’.
One man who was to be deported has since been given leave to remain in the UK. He described the 15 as “heroes” and does not believe they committed a crime:
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 that tick all of these boxes – and the Stansted 15 were trying to stop the real crime being committed.
“An abuse of power”
Meanwhile, Raj Chada, partner at Hodge Jones & Allen who represented 13 of the 15 defendants, said the charges were “an abuse of power”:
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.
Support the 15
15 people took action to save lives. They responded to a “call for help”. They did what the Home Office failed to do. A department fixated with a hostile environment would have deported all of them. And if those 15 people hadn’t taken action, the future of the 11 people who stayed in the UK would look very different.
They acted bravely and morally. And in return they have been victimised and found guilty under terrorism legislation that was introduced after the Lockerbie bombings; legislation that was never designed to deal with peaceful protesters.
Now we need not only to thank them but to stand with them and offer solidarity as they face imprisonment. Moreover, we also need to take action to show that we will not be deterred. We will carry on the fight against the government’s hostile environment and we will stop future deportations.
Featured image via screengrab
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