A jury at Lewes Crown Court acquitted three anti-deportation campaigners of causing a public nuisance this week. The three took direct action in November 2021 to stop a deportation flight bound for Jamaica.
The verdict followed a two-and-a-half weeks long trial.
In November 2021, the defendants locked-on in the road outside Brook House detention centre at Gatwick airport. Their intention was to stop coaches taking people to Birmingham airport for deportation from leaving.
SOAS Detainee support tweeted at the time:
— SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) (@sdetsup) November 9, 2021
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In the end, the state was only able to deport four out of an intended 50 people.
Their action had far-reaching consequences. Campaigners made a freedom of information request about the 50 people the flight intended to deport. The response, published May 2023, showed that 41 out of the 50 people are still in the UK.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) initially charged the three with aggravated trespass. However, the CPS later changed its mind and put them on trial for the potentially more severe offence of causing a public nuisance.
This morning we were outside Lewes Crown Court in solidarity with the Brook House blockaders – three comrades who took direct action to block a charter flight to Jamaica in 2021.
Courageous acts of resistance like theirs are vital as the gulf between legality & morality grows pic.twitter.com/C8CVVc4cic
— SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) (@sdetsup) May 30, 2023
During the trial, the defendants told the jury about what it’s like inside Brook House detention centre. A recent Panorama undercover investigation exposed the conditions inside the centre.
They listed to the jury how many of the people scheduled for deportation had been living in the UK since they were children. They also detailed how the Jamaica deportation breached many of the Home Office’s own guidelines.
The defendants gave evidence that they had intended to delay the deportation vans, in order to create time for last-minute legal challenges by lawyers representing those facing deportation.
This is why direct actions like these buy people life-changing minutes to fight their deportations through the courts.
Judge rules out evidence of Brook House detainee
The judge refused to allow the jury to hear evidence from a witness who was being held in Brook House at the time of the action, and who was scheduled to be deported to Jamaica. On top of that, the defendants were not allowed to present expert evidence about the illegality of the deportations.
Despite all this, the jury finally decided in the defendants’ favour. It found all three not guilty.
Defence solicitor Hussain Hassan, of Commons Solicitors, commented on the politically charged atmosphere in which the case took place:
This trial has taken place against a backdrop of increased state repression of those who engage in direct action, not only by legislative changes but also by an increasing tendency by the Crown Prosecution Service to overcharge those alleged to have committed criminal offences in the context of political protest.
Detainees were resisting too
The three defendants made a joint statement after the verdict. It read:
We took action to prevent people from being ripped away from their families, communities and loved ones, and from the places and communities they live [in].
But it wasn’t just their action that stopped the deportations. People were resisting inside Brook House too. The defendants continued:
At the same time as we blocked Brook House detention centre, people inside were also resisting deportation. This prosecution was an aggressive attempt by the state to criminalise our act of solidarity.
Stop Deportations made the following statement:
The verdict today shows the power of collective action, resistance and solidarity. The actions of the Brook House 3 helped to stop 41 people from being violently torn away from their families.
The group continued, reaffirming their commitment to resist deportations. They said:
We will not sit idly by and watch the Home Office deport people to their deaths and away from their lives in the UK, we will continue to resist deportations and the broader hostile environment despite this attempt to intimidate us and deter civil resistance.
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