The case of the Stansted 15 received huge attention a few years ago, partly because of the daring nature of the actions carried out by the group of fifteen activists, but also because of the peculiarity of the charges they received – charges which still hang over them.
The details of that night are reflected in a documentary by the filmmaker Sue Clayton, whose film follows them taking action against a deportation flight at Stansted airport in 2017, and their reactions to their subsequent prosecution.
The documentary illustrates how the action wasn’t as hazardous as later alleged. It also maintains that in order to protect the lives of the deportees, the group was left with little other recourse.
It included interviews with legal representatives, some of whom also handled their appeal which was heard in the Court of Appeal from 24 to 26 November. From the first day of hearing on Tuesday, support in favour of their appeal among campaigners naturally surged again.
All fifteen were given convictions following the incident three years ago in which they cut through Stansted airport’s perimeter fence and locked arms together around a Boeing 767 jet chartered by the Home Office to deport 60 people from UK detention centres to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Their actions prevented the flight from leaving. After appeals, eleven of the deportees were later granted permission to remain. Two were found to be victims of trafficking.
While not receiving jail sentences, the Stansted 15 were initially charged with aggravated trespass, but four months later this was changed to ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a serious terrorism-related charge which has a maximum penalty of a life sentence.
The documentary illustrates how the action wasn’t as hazardous as later alleged. It also maintains that in order to protect the lives of the deportees, the group was left with little other recourse
Hodge Jones & Allen, the legal firm appealing their convictions, has continued to argue that the laws used to convict them are unsuitable as they were intended to deal with terrorism, not demonstrators.
The charges against the activists have also been a major focal point for human rights groups who believe the legislation is not only heavy and unmerited but could be used in future to deter legitimate protest action.
At the time of the charge, Amnesty International wrote to the Director of the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General calling for the ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ charge to be dropped. It argued that it was excessive, and could even have been principally instigated to discourage other activists from taking similar action in defence of human rights.
At that time, over 11,000 Amnesty supporters also sent messages of solidarity with the fifteen. Since the appeal began its three-day hearing on Tuesday, the case has again seen a wave of support which has included several Labour MPs, such as Nadia Whittombe, Zara Sultana and Aspana Begum, along with multiple human rights groups, lawyers and activists.
After appeals, eleven of the deportees were later granted permission to remain. Two were found to be victims of trafficking
Judgement on the appeal had still not been passed at the time of writing. According to lawyers on Twitter, it could be still some time before it’s pronounced.
Human rights groups such as Movement for Justice and Labour MP Dianne Abbot also added tweets drawing attention to another controversial deportation flight set for 2 December, which could see around 50 being deported to Jamaica even though some have been here most of their lives and some have children in the UK.
The appeal also occurred during a week in which the Equalities and Human Rights Commission strongly criticised the Home Office for ignoring warnings over how its hostile environment policy would also adversely affect many from the Windrush generation.
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