A group of activists known as the ‘Stansted 15’ who stopped a plane deporting people to Africa have won an appeal against their convictions for a terror-related offence.
In March 2017, the activists surrounded a Boeing airplane that was being used to deport 60 people to West Africa in order toto prevent the it from taking off. At the time, eleven of the would-be deportees were in the process of challenging the lawfulness of their deportations. The activists set up tripods made from poles and used builder’s foam to secure the mechanisms of the plane. As a result, the plane was unable to depart and the was significant disruption at the airport.
While the group was initially charged with the lesser offence of aggravated trespass under section 68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, this was later changed to ‘intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome under section 1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The defendants were convicted in December 2018. Two of the defendants were given suspended sentences and the others received community orders. The group appealed their convictions arguing that the legislation used to convict the activists was rarely used and not intended for this type of case.
The Court held that, “The appellants should not have been prosecuted for the extremely serious offence under section 1(2)(b) of the 1990 Act because their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence. There was, in truth, no case to answer. We recognise that the various summary only offences with which the appellants were originally charged, if proved, might well not reflect the gravity of their actions. That, however, does not allow the use of an offence which aims at conduct of a different nature.”
The Court emphasised the critical distinction between ‘risk’ and ‘likely danger’, and said that it could not be established on the evidence in the case that the group's actions caused disruption which was ‘likely to endanger’ the safe operation of the airport or the safety of people there.
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