‘Stansted 15’ protesters win legal challenge to overturn convictions

Protesters taken to court after preventing a deportation flight from taking off from Stansted Airport have had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The so-called “Stansted 15” cut through the Essex airport’s perimeter fence in March 2017 and locked themselves together around a Boeing 767 jet chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Africa.

They were convicted at Chelmsford Crown Court in December 2018 of the intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 (Amsa) – and the following February three were given suspended jail sentences and the others handed community orders.

But in a judgment published on Friday, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, sitting with Mr Justice Jay and Mrs Justice Whipple, overturned their convictions.

They ruled that the protesters should not have been prosecuted for the “extremely serious offence” they were charged with under Amsa “because their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence”.

“There was, in truth, no case to answer,” the judgment said.

“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,” the judges added.

The group were granted permission to appeal against their convictions in August 2019 and, at a three-day hearing in November, lawyers for the activists told the court that the legislation used to convict the 15 is rarely used and not intended for this type of case.

In documents before the court, the Stansted 15’s barristers argued that the Amsa law is intended to deal with violence of the “utmost seriousness”, such as terrorism, not demonstrators.

In the judgment, Lord Burnett said it could not be established on the evidence in the case that the group’s actions created disruption which was “likely to endanger” the safe operation of the airport or the safety of people there.

He said: “Taking the Crown’s case at its highest, and considering all relevant potential consequences, it could not be established to the criminal standard that the actions of the appellants created disruption to the services of Stansted airport which was likely to endanger its safe operation or the safety of persons there.”

The 15 are: Helen Brewer, 31; Lyndsay Burtonshaw, 30; Nathan Clack, 32; Laura Clayson, 30; Melanie Evans, 37; Joseph McGahan, 37; Benjamin Smoke, 21; Jyotsna Ram, 35; Nicholas Sigsworth, 31; Melanie Strickland, 37; Alistair Tamlit, 32; Edward Thacker, 31; Emma Hughes, 40; May McKeith, 35; and Ruth Potts, 46.