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'Stansted 15' protestors avoid jail for blocking airport deportation flight

PUBLISHED: 08:46 06 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:30 06 February 2019

Supporters of the 'Stansted 15' outside Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex  Picture: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

Supporters of the 'Stansted 15' outside Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex Picture: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

Fifteen activists whose protest closed the runway at Stansted Airport have been spared immediate prison sentences.

Members of the 'Stansted 15' outside Chelmsford Crown Court  Picture: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIREMembers of the 'Stansted 15' outside Chelmsford Crown Court Picture: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

The ‘Stansted 15’ caused takeoffs and landings to be stopped after chaining themselves in front of a plane on March 28, 2017.

Following a trial at Chelmsford Crown Court, nine women and six men were convicted of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act.

They used bolt cutters to breach a fence and access a restricted airside area before obstructing the wheel of a Boeing 767 in an attempt to prevent a ‘deportation flight’ from removing failed asylum seekers from the country.

Their actions closed the runway for one hour and 20 minutes, and 19 inbound flights to be diverted.

Aircraft at Stansted Airport   Picture: Stansted AirportAircraft at Stansted Airport Picture: Stansted Airport

On Wednesday, at the same court, Judge Christopher Morgan told them custody would normally have been justified, but accepted their intention to demonstrate.

Stressing the seriousness of the offence, he said: “You took objects onto that airport. You had no way of knowing if all had been recovered.”

Judge Morgan said the activists had also moved a tripod near the wing of a Boeing 767.

“That plane had been fuelled, and the consequences of metal striking and going through that wing could have resulted in a catastrophic fire,” he added.

One of the 'Stansted 15' talking to the media outside Chelmsford Crown Court  Picture: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIREOne of the 'Stansted 15' talking to the media outside Chelmsford Crown Court Picture: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

Dexter Dias QC, mitigating, said the defendants feared for the safety of some on the flight, and “acted out of conscience”.

Two had since been allowed to stay after their cases were reviewed, Mr Dias said.

The 15 were Helen Brewer, 29; Lyndsay Burtonshaw, 28; Nathan Clack, 30; Laura Clayson, 28; Melanie Evans, 35; Joseph McGahan, 35; Benjamin Smoke, 27; Jyotsna Ram, 33; Nicholas Sigsworth, 29; Melanie Strickland, 35; Alistair Tamlit, 30; Edward Thacker, 29; Emma Hughes, 38; May McKeith, 33 and Ruth Potts, 44 – all of whom are subject to a 12-month exclusion requirement.

Thacker, Strickland and Tamlit, who were convicted of aggravated trespass over a climate change protest at Heathrow in 2015, were given sentences of nine months, suspended for 18 months.

Thacker and Tamlit must complete 250 hours of unpaid work, and Strickland 100 hours. The others were given 12-month community orders and must complete 100 hours’ unpaid work, save for McKeith, given 20 days of rehabilitation due to ill health.

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