A group of activists who shut down the Stansted Airport in the United Kingdom in 2017 will not face immediate jail time.
Known as the Stansted 15, the protesters broke into the airport by cutting through a fence, chained themselves together under a plane, and prevented the plane from taking off. Despite breaking the law by breaking into the airport and causing it to shut down for an hour, with planes diverted to other locations, the group has been spared jail time.
The cost of the airport shutdown was £1 Million.
The group was convicted in December “of endangering safety at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, a law brought in after the Lockerbie bombing,” according to CNN International. Despite this, “[t]hree of the activists were given suspended jail sentences, while the remaining 12 were handed community orders, according to the UK's Press Association.”
The Stansted 15 is a group of people aged 27 to 44 who were trying to stop the plane from taking off because it contained 60 people who UK officials determined were illegal immigrants. The group claimed that “many of the 60 on board still had legal rights to appeal their decisions – such as asylum seekers whose applications to stay had been rejected,” according to BBC reporter Dominic Casciani. At least 25 of those on board, however, were convicted criminals, Casciani reported. There was even a convicted murder on the plane.
Casciani also reported that “23 incoming flights were diverted to other English airports” because of the protest.
BBC Essex reported that Prosecutor Tony Badenoch “won’t try recouping the financial deficit caused by the protest; estimated to be more than £1 Million.”
The Stansted 15 ended up saving some of the people on board. Eleven of the 60 migrants are appealing the rulings against them – two have been recognized as victims of human trafficking, BBC Essex reported.
Emma Hughes, one of the 15 protesters, said the group “will get this conviction overturned.” She may be right.
There is an obvious free speech element to this story. Protesting is not a crime, nor should the Stansted 15 be considered terrorists like the Lockerbie bomber. Causing that much disruption to an airport shouldn’t be tolerated, however.
The situation also highlights the unintended consequences of broadly worded laws enacted after a specific event. The law the Stansted 15 were convicted of breaking was created after a terrorist attack. The Stansted 15 were not terrorists, had no intention of physically harming or killing anyone, yet were found guilty under such a law.
Last year, a group of passengers on a flight from Britain to Turkey chanted and protested because a Somalian immigrant was on the plane being deported. What they didn’t know was that he was actually a convicted gang rapist.
The Stansted 15 helped two trafficking victims – which should send a message to U.K. officials about their ability to investigate immigration statuses – but they also stopped 25 convicted criminals, including a murderer, from being deported.