FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: First activists to stop controversial deportation flight start landmark six-week trial in Essex court
- Landmark Essex trial begins of 15 activists – first ever to stop secretive night flight, preventing the brutal, secretive and barely legal(1) expulsion of 34 people to Nigeria and Ghana.
- Defendants supported by Lord David Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, David Lammy MP, Philip Pullman, Emma Thompson, Akala, Maxine Peake, the Shadow Home Secretary, the Green Party and Chelmsford Priest, Robert Wiggs, who have all called for an end to charter flight deportations and for the charges against the 15 to be dropped.
- Trial in Chelmsford Crown Court expected to last six weeks, as activists face charges of endangering an airport under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, which if they were found guilty could mean many years in prison.
- Solidarity demonstration outside Chelmsford Crown Court, 8.30am, Monday 19th March 2018.
Today, Monday 19th March 2018, in Chelmsford Crown Court, the trial begins of 15 people who in March 2017 blocked a secretive government night flight from Stansted airport, due to send 57 people to Nigeria and Ghana.
Represented by a team of lawyers including Dexter Dias QC, who led the inquiry into the death of Cherry Groce, the 15 will plead not guilty to the charge of ‘endangering an airport’ under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act. This is the first time activists have been charged with this terror-related offence, passed in 1990 in response to the Lockerbie bombing. An unprecedented use of the legislation, if found guilty they could face many years in prison.
Speaking in support of the defendants as the trial began, Chelmsford Priest, the Rev’d Robert Wiggs said:
“No one should defy the law lightly. However as a parish priest, having worked alongside asylum seekers for the last 35 years, I have often observed British justice at its weakest. Many of those asylum seekers that the Stansted 15 managed to keep in the country by their direct action, will have had cases that were still in process. All would have faced a frightening, possibly threatening reception on arrival in the country to which they were being deported. And the forced removal of most of them would have broken up already vulnerable families.
The trial of the defendants starts today. Despite the draconian charges being brought against them, the trial is exposing a subject that most people in this country know nothing about – the terrible banging on the door in the middle of the night and its consequences, associated in most minds with totalitarian regimes.”
The Stansted flight stopped by the defendants was one of a regular series of secretive night-time flights chartered by the government at great expense to send people to countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan and until recently Afghanistan. Thousands of people are deported on these specially chartered flights each year, often to countries where they have few, if any, links having lived in cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Basildon for decades. Many face serious harm, even death – having fled persecution and sought asylum in the UK.
A replacement flight took off from Stansted airport two nights after the flight blocked by the activists with only 23 people on board meaning that 34 people have been able to continue appeals for the right to remain in the UK.
“Flights like the one stopped by the defendants in March last year are a brutal, and secretive and barely legal way of forcing people out of the UK. The government racially profiles people to fill seats on a plane, sending people to countries they may have little or no contact with and where they may face real risk of serious harm or even death – it’s as unjust, racist and dangerous as Trump’s ‘muslim ban”, says Juno Davis from national campaign group End Deportations
“The use of these deportation charter flights is like a dark, twisted, family secret the government doesn’t want us to know about. We need to shine a light on this brutal, inhumane and barely legal practice so that it can be stopped.” She added
The defendants, from campaign groups End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) and Plane Stupid, will plead ‘not-guilty’ in the Chelmsford Court Room.
– ENDS –
Notes to editors:
For more information, or to speak to a member of End Deportations, legal experts or people affected by the UK’s deportation system, please contact:
End Deportations on 07442 626 337 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Broadcast opportunities on Monday 19th March 2019 (images also available after the event):
08.30 am – 10.00am: Solidarity demonstration outside Chelmsford Crown Court.
Attendees have been asked to wear pink and will be carrying a range of pink, black and silver banners.
9.15am: Defendants enter court
4.00pm: Defendants and legal team leave court
About the case:
- The 15 were arrested after successfully blocking the flight in March 2017, and initially charged with Aggravated Trespass (a charge that still stands.) In the summer of 2017, the CPS applied to the Attorney General to introduce the more serious charge of ‘endangering and airport’ which was granted and added to the existing charge.
- This is the first time people taking non-violent direct action have been charged under this act, introduced in 1990 in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing.
- The defendants will all plead ‘not guilty’.
- If found guilty, they could face many years in prison.
- The defendants will be represented by Dexter Dias QC, and a team of lawyers including
About charter flight deportations:
- Charter flights refer to the government practice of paying for entire flights to send large numbers of people to specific countries. The flights contain only the people being sent away from the UK and private security guards. They take off late at night from undisclosed locations, hiding them from public view.
- Investigations by Corporate Watch have revealed that the government uses racial profiling to select people for deportation so that it can fill planes, including people with active legal claims.
- “Reserve” deportees are taken to the airport to fill up the places of individuals whose lawyers are successful in making last-minute challenges. The people who are “reserve”’ are not told whether they will be deported on the flight right up until they are either put on the plane, or the plane departs. If they are not deported they may be sent to a different detention centre from the one they left. The Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Home Affairs Committee have recommended the use of reserves on deportation charter flights cease. The practice continues.
- There is substantial evidence that people being deported experience violence and abuse on these covert flights. People going on the flights are handcuffed, waist restraint belts an independent panel advised should only be used in exceptional circumstances are regularly used, and some are strapped to their seats. Private security guards still use the same restraint techniques that led to the death of Jimmy Mubenga. 60-70 people will be deported on one flight and accompanied by about twice as many guards as people being deported.
- The flights are operated by a number of private aviation companies and security companies, including Tascor, a subsidiary of Capita, and previously G4S. In May 2018, Mitie, a Bristol-based outsourcing firm will take over the contract from Tascor.
- Thousands of people are deported from the UK in this way each year
- Deporting people in this way costs millions. The contract for the security escorts alone is worth £52 million a year, according to the company taking over the service in May 2018.
- The UK began using charter deportations in 2001.
- The countries people are sent to are often countries Britain has intervened in militarily, or where there is political instability. The first flights were to Kosovo and Albania, then Romania and the Czech Republic with Roma people the main targets. In 2003 charters began to Afghanistan, newly declared ‘safe’. More recently, Pakistan has taken over as the UK government’s main charter “partner”, after a deal was struck with the Pakistani government in 2011, as part of a larger trade and aid negotiation. African countries are also now regular destinations, notably Nigeria, Ghana and (until recently) the Democratic Republic of Congo. September 2016 also saw a charter flight to Jamaica, the first since 2014. Flights to Iraq and Sri Lanka have stopped for now, after successful political and legal campaigns involving refugee movements from these countries. Flights to Afghanistan have also stopped, but they continue from other European countries, and many fear they will also soon resume from the UK
About End Deportations:
End Deportations is a campaign to stop the brutal, secretive and barely legal practice of deporting large groups of people using charter flights.
We need to ask serious questions about the brutal and inhumane detention and deportation system.