Protestors who stopped flight deporting immigrants to Africa win appeal

File photo dated 24/11/20 of six members of the so-called Stansted 15 (left to right) May MacKeith,

Six members of the so-called Stansted 15 outside the Royal Courts of Justice after their convictions were overturned. Left to right are May MacKeith, Ben Smoke, Helen Brewer, Emma Hughes, Mel Evans and Ruth Potts - Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Protestors who stopped a deportation flight bound for Africa taking off from Stansted Airport have won an appeal against their convictions.

The group, dubbed the "Stansted 15", cut through the perimeter fence in March 2017 and locked themselves together around the Boeing 767 jet, which had been chartered by the Home Office to take people from UK detention centres to Africa.

Three were later given suspended jail sentences, while the others were handed community orders after being convicted in the courts.

Their convictions have been overturned by the Court of Appeal, with a judgment reading: "There was, in truth, no case to answer."

The group of people had been convicted under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 (Amsa).

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The protestors had argued that the law relates to "an offence of unlawful violence of the utmost seriousness, directed at individuals who intentionally and unlawfully deploy offensive devices, substances and/or weapons, intending by that deployment to disrupt airport services in such a way as to endanger or to be likely to endanger the safe operation of the airport as a whole or the safety of the body of persons at such airport".

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.

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"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."

May McKeith spoke about the "nightmare" of the "bogus charge" in a statement on behalf of the protestors.

She added:  "It is painful for it to be finally acknowledged that the past four years' of prosecution should never have happened.

"But for many people caught up in the UK immigration system the ordeal lasts much, much longer.

"In the middle of a global pandemic the government is still locking people in detention centres and brutally forcing people onto secret night flights, often to places they don't know.

"The nightmare of this bogus charge, a 10-week trial and the threat of prison has dominated our lives for four years.

"Despite the draconian response we know our actions were justified.

"Eleven people, including survivors of trafficking, who would have been deported that night are still in the UK.

"Mothers, fathers, colleagues, friends and family members are rebuilding lives the Government attempted to destroy."

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said: "We will consider the judgment carefully in the next 28 days".

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.

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