A court’s apology for calling the Stansted 15 back to face new charges is simply not good enough
On 10 December 2018,15 people were found guilty of a terrorism-related offence. 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. At least 11 of the people due to be deported that day are still in the UK.
But a conviction for a crime that carried a potential life imprisonment charge doesn’t seem to be enough for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Last week, the 15 received a letter demanding they return to the Magistrates’ court to face lesser charges of aggravated trespass.
The court has now apologised and said the letter was sent in error. But the apology has been called a “temporary reprieve”. Because the threat of additional charges remains against the 15.
Following a nine-week trial, the judge sentenced all but one of the defendants to a 12-month community order and imposed nine-month suspended sentences on the three defendants who had previously taken similar action.
The 15 are also appealing their conviction. Lawyer Raj Chada, who represents 13 of the activists, called the convictions “a travesty of justice” and said:
It is our strongly held belief that charging them with this offence was an abuse of power by the attorney general and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service]. It is only right and fitting that this wrongful conviction is overturned.
In a statement, Chada slammed the initial letter sent by Essex Magistrates’ Court:
In all my years of practising I have never known the CPS to be so vindictive, malicious and hell-bent on persecuting a group of defendants. This prosecution is wrong on so many levels and is impossible for our clients to understand. They have already been prosecuted for this offence but now face a potential trial again. This is little more than mental torture and is unacceptable. How can this be in the public interest to waste tax-payers money on further prosecutions when they have already been, in our view wrongly, convicted? I have called on the CPS to do drop this matter immediately in the interests of justice.
And while Chada welcomed the apology, he also stated it wasn’t enough:
At least [the court] have retracted and apologised to our clients. It doesn’t take away from the misery that our clients suffered over the weekend. More importantly, it is a temporary reprieve as the CPS are still continuing the case and want it hanging over our clients like the sword of Damocles – this is not in the public interest.
An insight into the lives of people seeking asylum
A statement from the 15 defendants highlighted the fact that the “threat of prosecution is cruel and vindictive”. And they pointed out that:
After spending well over half a million pounds on prosecuting and convicting us of a piece of draconian terror-related legislation, to spend more money on trying us for yet another offence isn’t just wasting money, it’s playing cold-hearted games with our lives.
But the statement also recognises the fact that what they’re experiencing is a small insight into the lives of people seeking asylum in the UK:
This malicious prosecution is a window in on the kind of psychological punishment people seeking asylum in this country face from the Home Office every single day. Our current immigration system is vicious – that’s why we will not stop standing together to challenge it.
Drop the charges
15 people answered a call for help and were subjected to legal proceedings that have now lasted nearly two years. It appears the state is desperate to both punish the defendants and deter others from taking action.
It’s down to all of us to demand the charges are dropped and show that we won’t be intimidated.
Featured image via screengrab
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