Protesters who stopped a deportation flight leaving Britain have had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The activists known as ‘The Stansted 15’ cut through Stansted Airport security fence in March 2017, and successfully secured themselves around the Boeing 767 nose wheel.
The aircraft had been chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Convicted under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act, three were given suspended prison sentences, and the others were handed community orders in February 2019.
Prosecuting, Tony Badenoch QC said the defendants had “placed the safety of the airport in a likelihood of danger”. Mr Badenoch told the court: “We don’t accept that the Act is constrained to terrorism and nothing else.”
On 29th January, in a written judgment, the Court of Appeals, sitting as the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, Mr Justice Jay and Mrs Justice Whipple, overturned the convictions.
The judgment stated the activists should not have been prosecuted for the “extremely serious offence” as “their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence”.
Lord Burnett stated: “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. All the appellants’ convictions must be quashed,” he continued.
The 15 claimed their action stopped deportations of people at risk of harm in their destination countries.
After the judgment was published, one of the protesters, Lyndsay Burtonshaw, tweeted: “We got the judgement from our appeal for our terrorism-related conviction for the #Stansted15 action. WE WON!”
Labour MP Nadia Whittome tweeted her support for the activists, saying the actions had “saved peoples lives”.
The #Stansted15 saved people's lives.
This verdicts confirms the obvious: they’re not terrorists – they're heroes.
— Nadia Whittome MP (@NadiaWhittomeMP) January 29, 2021
However, she received negative responses in the comments, with one saying: “Those due to be removed included 25 criminals who had been imprisoned in UK jails for serious offences including murder, rape of a minor and grievous bodily harm.”