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  1. ITV Report

Stansted protestors who grounded deportation aircraft found guilty

Some of the protesters found guilty of an airport security offence after trying to halt a deportation aircraft at Stansted airport.

Fifteen protesters who cut through Stansted Airport's perimeter fence in Essex and locked themselves together around a chartered deportation plane have been found guilty of an aviation security offence following a nine-week trial.

Prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC earlier told Chelmsford Crown Court that the group "placed the safety of the airport in a likelihood of danger" through their actions.

  • Click to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Tanya Mercer

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Monday that all defendants had been convicted of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, contrary to section 1 (2) (b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990.

The Boeing 767 jet targeted by the group, operated by Titan Airways, was chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone and the offence took place on 28 March 2017.

Mobile phone footage of a protester at Stansted airport in March 2017.

"Through their actions, these defendants intentionally grounded a Boeing 767 and caused significant disruption at Stansted Airport.

"Fifteen protesters used equipment such as industrial bolt cutters, chains, expanding foam, scaffolding poles and lock box devices to prevent the take-off of a plane.

"These people placed themselves, the flight crew, airport personnel and police at serious risk of injury or even death due to their actions on the airfield.

– Judith Reed, Crown Prosecution Service
The break-in at Stansted grounded the deportation flights and other flights had to be cancelled.

In a statement issued by campaign group End Deportations, the so-called Stansted 15 said: "We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm."

"The real crime is the Government's cowardly, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights and the unprecedented use of terror law to crack down on peaceful protest.

"We must challenge this shocking use of draconian legislation, and continue to demand an immediate end to these secretive deportation charter flights and a full independent public inquiry into the Government's 'hostile environment'.

"Justice will not be done until we are exonerated and the Home Office is held to account for the danger it puts people in every single day."

– Statement for End Deportations campaign group
The protesters gained access to a restricted area at Stansted before locking their arms in tubing to obstruct a plane’s wheel.

Raj Chada, partner from Hodge Jones & Allen who represented all 15 of the defendants, said: "We are deeply disappointed by today's verdicts.

"In our view it is inconceivable that our clients were charged under counter-terrorism legislation for what was a just protest against deporting asylum seekers."

One of the convicted protestors, Ruth Potts, said they were in a state of shock over the verdict and said they never put anything or anyone in danger

“The actions of the people involved were dangerous and caused significant disruption to the airport and passengers. “When they breached the airport’s perimeter, there intentions were unknown and this resulted in the runway being closed. “Their actions disrupted many flights, which had a financial impact on airlines and forced hundreds of passengers to make other arrangements to land at other airports. “Breaching one the UK's busiest airports is dangerous and has consequences and today's convictions shows that."

– Superintendent Nick Morris, Stansted Airport’s police commander

In a statement Stansted airport said: “Whilst we respect the right to peaceful protest, the safety of our passengers, aircraft and colleagues is paramount and any unlawful or irresponsible behaviour aimed at disrupting the smooth operation of the airport is unacceptable.”

The defendants, aged between 27 and 44, will be sentenced on February 4 at Chelmsford Crown Court.

  • Emma Hughes, 38, of Vicarage Road, Leytonstone;
  • Melanie Evans, 35, of Vicarage Road, Leytonstone
  • Melanie Stickland, 35, of Borwick Avenue, Walthamstow
  • Lyndsay Burtonshaw, 28, of no fixed address, London
  • May Mackeith, 33, of Clementina Road, Leytonstone
  • Laura Clayson, 28, Lords Close, Greenwich
  • Helen Brewer, 28, of Markfield Road, Hackney
  • Ruth Potts, 44, of Ashton Gate Terrace, Bristol
  • Jyotsna Ram, 33, of Stanhope Gardens, Haringey
  • Nicholas Sigsworth, 29, of Clementia Road, Leytonstone
  • Alistair Tamlit, 30, of no fixed address, London
  • Benjamin Smoke, 27, of Rowley Gardens, Haringey
  • Edward Thacker, 29, of Markfield Road, Hackney
  • Nathan Clack, 30, of Lords Close, Lambeth