On 24 September, Paralympic gold medallist James Brown, 56, was sentenced to 12 months in prison for an Extinction Rebellion (XR) action at London City Airport during XR’s October 2019 ‘Rebellion’.
This first custodial sentence for an XR action was imposed for the offence of causing ‘a public nuisance’.
Alanna Byrne, of Extinction Rebellion UK, said: ‘We are shocked and devastated by this news.’
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell tweeted: ‘It’s an excessively harsh sentence for a non-violent protest.’
Author George Monbiot wrote on Twitter: ‘James and people like him will be seen as the heroes of our age. Like the Suffragettes and the civil rights movement, vilified today, celebrated tomorrow.’
Raj Chada of Hodge, Jones and Allen Solicitors, who acts on behalf of Extinction Rebellion, said: ‘This is a dangerous judgment for our right to free speech, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues. We will be appealing this sentence.’
James, who is registered blind, climbed on top of a British Airways (BA) plane to Amsterdam on 10 October 2019 and superglued his hand to the plane in order to draw attention to airport expansion and the climate impact of flying.
James’s protest led to the flight being cancelled and then the cancellation of a second BA flight.
Evidence was presented to Southwark crown court that 337 passengers had missed birthday celebrations, important business meetings and family events and that the disruption had cost the airline around £40,000.
Judge Perrins told James (who represented himself): ‘The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major, widespread disruption to a major airport.’
The judge went on: ‘It is also important to note that, although you claim your actions were intended as a protest, you targeted not those with the power and influence to bring about the change you wish to see but ordinary people going about their daily lives. That was a calculated decision on your part.’
Born in Portaferry, County Down, in Northern Ireland, James Brown won two gold medals in athletics (for Britain) at the 1984 Summer Paralympics and a bronze medal in cycling (for Ireland) at the 2012 Paralympic Games.