This morning the “Stansted 15”, who last year chained themselves to an airplane to stop a planned mass deportation of people, including asylum seekers and those who feared for their lives, go on trial at Chelmsford crown court in Essex.
On 28 March last year, the 15, wearing hi-viz jackets, locked themselves to a Titan Airway Boeing 767-300 aircraft at Stansted airport. It had been chartered by the Home Office’s National Removals Command unit to return deportees to Nigeria and Ghana.
Initially the Stansted 15 were charged with “aggravated trespass”, the usual charge used against
protesters who disrupt air traffic. But last summer the Crown Prosecution Service applied to the Attorney General to introduce a new charge – “endangering an airport”, under section 1 of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990.
Although this Act does not specifically mention “terrorism”, it was explicitly devised as a response to an act of terrorism (the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight in 1988) rather than to deal with peaceful political protest. The charge carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment.
The use of this charge is a threat to civil liberties, and to all those who want to use democratic processes to express their point of view. It is part of the criminalisation of dissent. As Graeme Hayes, Steven Cammiss and Brian Doherty argue in their excellent article on the legal background:
[T]he bringing of this charge is an explicit attempt to silence not just collective challenge to deportation policies, but non-violent direct action in Britain as a whole. [It] is part of a wider trend of democratic enclosure, central to the imposition of neo-liberal politics, and to the stigmatising and exclusionary dynamics of austerity.
This is a political prosecution, with political consequences for us all.
The Stansted 15’s well-thought-out action successfully stopped the charter flight that they set out to stop. It challenged a deportations strategy designed to appease the sickest, most racist elements in the British political spectrum – and showed it could be pushed back by active resistance.
The 15’s supporters point out that the action blocked 34 of the 57 planned deportations, as it gave many of those on board
time to pursue legal avenues against the Home Office’s vindictive target-driven tactics. A replacement flight 48 hours later had only 23 people on board.
The action drew attention to the Home Office’s inhuman “Deport First, Appeal Later” policy, which was introduced by Theresa May (as Home Secretary) in 2014 for foreigners convicted of criminal offences, but later extended to all categories of deportees, including e.g. failed asylum seekers and visa overstayers.
The policy remains in force, despite the UK Supreme Court last year unanimously finding it to be an unlawful breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Deportees are often arrested in the UK and taken to immigration removal centres, where it is difficult or impossible to get legal representation, and then rushed aboard the charter flights.
The Stansted 15’s action was not just politically necessary; it was also morally exemplary. No I am not getting pompous. I am just saying that they have shown one way to live in a rich country that is turning itself into a fortress, to try to seal itself off from the consequences of decades of its, and others’, political and economic imperialism.
What other response to the Home Office’s murderously violent migration policies makes any moral sense? Chaining yourself to one of those infernal deportation airplanes is an answer commensurate with the Home Office’s criminal inhumanity.
That’s why the Stansted 15 are truly heroes for our time. Support them however you can. GL, 19 March 2018.
“Deportation and direct action in Britain: the ‘terrorist trial’ of the Stansted 15, on Open Democracy. This is the clearest explanation of the legal background I have seen.
A letter to the Guardian demanding the charges are dropped, by the former chief inspector of prisons and many others
Statements by some of the deportees who were on the airplane: