‘Stansted 15’ avoid jail over grounded plane

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Stansted 15 at Chelmsford Crown Court
Members of the Stansted 15 gathered outside Chelmsford Crown Court ahead of their sentencing

Fifteen protesters who chained themselves to a plane to stop it deporting people to Africa have avoided immediate jail sentences.

Dubbed the Stansted 15, the group broke through a fence at the airport in a bid to reach the jet taking 60 people to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

They were found guilty of endangering the safety of an aerodrome.

Three were given suspended jail terms and 12 received community orders at Chelmsford Crown Court.

The group has said they will appeal against their convictions, which they believe have serious implications for the freedom to protest.

They used bolt cutters to enter Stansted Airport and attached themselves to the Boeing 767 using tubes and expanding foam on 28 March 2017.

The runway was closed for more than an hour and 23 incoming flights had to be diverted to other airports.

May McKeith, one of the Stansted 15, punches the air as she leaves the courtroom

Passing sentence, Judge Christopher Morgan told the 15 that while he accepted the group were seeking to demonstrate in support of their cause, they had come “perilously close” to causing a catastrophe.

He said: “In normal circumstances only a normal custodial sentence would have been justified in this case, but in your case I accept that your intentions were to demonstrate.”

“There is no doubt that you understood that there were safety implications,” he added.

“You put at risk the safe operations of the airport and the persons who were there on the night.”

A large crowd gathered outside the court in support of the Stansted 15

During sentencing, barristers for the 15 said they were motivated by their conscience and determination to prevent deportees facing the risk of death overseas.

The passengers on the flight included asylum seekers who were appealing their stay in the UK, but also a convicted murderer.

Eleven of the passengers are still in the UK today after their cases for staying in the country were re-examined.

Three of the defendants, Edward Thacker, Alistair Tamlit and Melanie Strickland were given nine-month jail sentences, suspended for 18 months.

The other 12 received 12-month community orders, with 11 of them ordered to carry out unpaid work.

All 15 were convicted on 10 December last year under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, which was brought in after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The Stansted 15 have said they will appeal their convictions

The defendants had said they were being prosecuted under the “little known” legislation, originally devised to combat terrorism and hjijacking.

In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was never suggested to the jury that any of the 15 were terrorists.

Prosecutor Tony Badenoch said the Crown would not be recouping the financial deficit caused by the protest; estimated to be more than £1m.

Hundreds of people turned out to a demonstration outside the court, with crowds singing, clapping and waving banners.

The courtroom was packed for the hearing, with extra space created in the public gallery and all seats filled.

The 15 sentenced are:

  • Helen Brewer, 29; Ferne Park Road, London.
  • Lyndsay Burtonshaw, 28; Upper Lewes Road, Brighton.
  • Nathan Clack, 30; Ferne Park Road, London.
  • Laura Clayson, 28; Brownswood Road, London.
  • Melanie Evans, 35; Vicarage Road, London.
  • Joseph McGahan, 35; Path Hill Farm, Reading.
  • Benjamin Smoke, 27; Rowley Gardens, London.
  • Jyotsna Ram, 33; Brownswood Road, London.
  • Nicholas Sigsworth, 29; Ferne Park Road, London.
  • Melanie Strickland, 35; Borwick Avenue, London.
  • Alistair Tamlit, 30; Brownswood Road, London.
  • Edward Thacker, 29; Ferne Park Road, London.
  • Emma Hughes, 38; Vicarage Road, London.
  • May McKeith, 33; Vicarage Road, London.
  • Ruth Potts, 44; Ashton Gate Terrace, Bristol.


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