On 29 January, after six days of trial, the court of appeal in London overturned the convictions of the activists known as ‘the Stansted 15’, saying they should never have been prosecuted on counter-terror charges in 2019.
After they prevented the departure of a deportation flight from Stansted airport in 2017, the Stansted 15 were prosecuted on the charge of ‘endangering the safe operation of an aerodrome’, under section 1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990.
The appeal court ruled: ‘There was, in truth, no case to answer’ because ‘their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence.’
The crown prosecution service (CPS) and the government had clearly overplayed their hand.
The CPS had to get the permission of the attorney general to bring the terror charge, meaning it was a political one.
A Stansted 15 member, May MacKeith commented on the ruling: ‘It is painful for it to be finally acknowledged that the past four years’ of prosecution should never have happened. But, for many people caught up in the UK immigration system, the ordeal lasts much, much longer….’
The action took place on 28 March 2017, when 15 members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants and End Deportations cut through Stansted airport’s perimeter and locked on to a Boeing 767 and to tripods in its way.
The aircraft had been chartered to deport some 60 people to West Africa. The Stansted 15 believed that many of the deportees would risk violence, serious harm or death in the countries to which they were being deported.
As a result of the action, the flight was cancelled, 11 of those on the plane were reprieved from deportation and the campaigners succeeded in drawing much public attention to UK’s forcible deportation of asylum seekers and other migrants.
The Stansted 15 were originally found guilty by a jury at Chelmsford crown court in December 2019, with sentencing adjourned. Three were later sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and the rest were given community orders. (PN 2628 – 2629)
May MacKeith added: ‘To help us move closer to something that truly represents justice, we need to challenge the cruel and racist logic that builds prisons and borders. That means stopping all deportation charter flights, closing all detention centres and ending automatic deportation of people who have been convicted of a crime.’