Extinction Rebellion: Former Paralympian jailed for supergluing himself to plane during protest

James Brown found guilty of public nuisance after he glued himself to a plane in an XR protest in 2019
Extinction Rebellion activist James Brown, 56, superglued himself to the top of a BA plane. Credit: PA Media

A double Paralympic gold-medalist has been jailed for a year for supergluing himself to a plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest.

James Brown, 56, who is blind, scaled the British Airways aircraft at London City Airport on the morning of October 10 2019 in a protest against the environmental impact of flying.

The former athlete turned charity worker, glued his right hand to the Amsterdam-bound plane, before wedging his mobile phone in the door to prevent it from closing.

Northern Ireland-born Brown, who is now based in Exeter, spent an hour on top of the aircraft before he was removed.

Mr Brown had booked his flight on the morning of the stunt and smuggled a bottle of superglue in his luggage that was not detected by security, prosecutor Richard Witcombe told the jury during the trial.

Mr Brown declined an offer by a member of cabin staff to help him to his seat, telling her that he was going to climb on to the roof of the plane.

Prosecutors said he caused disruption to more than 300 British Airways passengers, costing the airline £40,000.

The former Paralympian represented Great Britain in cycling and athletics before going on to represent Ireland in cross-country skiing.

Former Paralympic cyclist James Brown, 55, outside Westminster Magistrates' Court in October 2019. Credit: PA

Mr Brown, who represented himself at his trial, denied one count of causing a public nuisance, claiming he had “to do something spectacular” to draw attention to the climate crisis.

But he was found guilty at Southwark Crown Court in July after a jury deliberated for less than an hour.

Judge Gregory Perrins sentenced him to 12 months’ imprisonment, of which he will serve half, on Friday.

He told Brown: “The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major widespread disruption to a major airport… simply because you think it is the right thing to do.”

Judge Perrins said: “This is a case in which you acted together with at least 10 other activists to plan and execute a major act of disruption.

“You intended to cause the maximum amount of disruption possible at the airport if not shut it down completely.”

The judge told “accomplished athlete” Brown: “You cynically used your disability to put your plan into action”, adding: “You put your own life at risk by climbing on top of the plane.”

He said he accepted Brown was motivated “by a desire to bring about a change you genuinely believe is for the benefit of all” and that there must be a “sense of proportionality” when sentencing those who commit offences during a protest.

But he told Brown there is “no entitlement to more lenient treatment” because he was protesting about the environment.

Paralympian James Brown lying top of a British Airways plane at City Airport, London Credit: Extinction Rebellion/PA

Giving evidence, Mr Brown wept as he told jurors: “I was prepared to challenge myself, to be scared, to face the fear, because the fear of climate ecological breakdown is so much greater."

In an emotional speech, married father-of-four Brown, who runs a charity, said: "My protest, the purpose I hope is clear, my motivation was to maximise media attention to the climate crisis, which back at that time was hardly receiving any."

Tim Maloney QC, defending Brown at his sentencing hearing, said: "He has expressed an intention not to become involved in unlawful protest again."

Mr Maloney said Brown has “overcome the barriers to live a successful and inspiring life”, competing at five Paralympic games and becoming a successful businessman.

“There is so much more to his life than sporting excellence,” he said as he described Brown’s career as a maths teacher before working for Gloucestershire County council in disabled children’s services.

He also built a conference centre aimed at meeting the needs of disabled people and set up Mobiloo, a company which provides facilities for disabled people at festivals and events.