Fifteen protesters who stopped a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport have been spared jail because their “intentions were to demonstrate”.
The so-called ‘Stansted 15’ cut through the airport’s perimeter fence in March 2017 and locked themselves together around a Boeing 767 which had been chartered by the Home Office to take people back to Africa.
Sentencing them at Chelmsford Crown Court, Judge Christopher Morgan said the offence they were convicted of in December – intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome – was a “serious” one.
They used tools including bolt cutters, chains and tubes with expandable foam to prevent the plane taking off, an earlier hearing was told.
“You took objects onto that airport,” said Judge Morgan. “You had no way of knowing if all had been recovered.”
He added that “even a small breach of regulations, (such as) the leaving of foreign object debris on a runway, can have catastrophic effects”.
Judge Morgan noted that the activists had moved a tripod near the wing of a Boeing 767, where its fuel tank is located.
“That plane had been fuelled and the consequences of metal striking and going through that wing could have resulted in a catastrophic fire,” he said.
The runway was closed for an hour and 20 minutes and 19 inbound flights were diverted to other airports.
Judge Morgan said the incident resulted in a loss of more than £1m to parties who were not specified in court.
Explaining his decision not to jail any of the protesters, 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.”
Three of the defendants received suspended jail terms, while the other 12 were given community orders.
Dexter Dias QC said in mitigation that the defendants feared for the safety of some of those on the deportation flight, adding: “These defendants acted out of conscience.”
Two people who were due to be deported have since been allowed to stay after their cases were reconsidered by the Home Office, Mr Dias said.
The defendants, aged between 27 and 44, denied the charge against them and are appealing their convictions.
(c) Sky News 2019: ‘Stansted 15’ airport protesters who closed runway spared jail