'Stanstead 15' won't face jail time after blocking deportation flight

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'Stanstead 15' won't face jail time after blocking deportation flight
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Fifteen anti-deportation protesters, known as the Stansted 15, learned they had avoided prison sentences at a hearing on Wednesday.

The Stansted 15 were found guilty late last year of endangering the safety of an aerodrome, which is a terrorism-related offence.

They had blocked the take-off of a UK government-chartered flight at Stansted Airport, which was scheduled to deport 60 people to several countries across Africa.

To block the flight, the group cut through a fence at Stansted Airport, before chaining themselves together and blocking the aircraft's path.

Three received suspended jail terms and the remaining 12 got community orders at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex, said a police press statement.

The defendants were facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In a video published on Twitter by the anti-deportation group End Deportations, the activists are heard saying after their sentence: "We are relieved we're not going to prison, but these terror convictions and the 10-week trial that have led to them are an injustice and have profound implications for all of our lives."

"The convictions will drastically limit our ability to work, to travel and to take part in everyday life."

Unless they need to travel from Stanstead, the airport is off-limits for the activists for 12 months.

During the trial, protesters gathered outside the court to oppose the charges and subsequent sentencing.

"No matter the outcome, we'll keep fighting against the government's brutal charter flights," End Deportations said on Twitter.

In a statement, Amnesty International expressed relief that none of the Stanstead 15 will go to jail but reiterated its condemnation of the decision to charge the protesters with terrorism-related charges.

"They should never have faced this very serious terrorism-related charge in the first place," said Kate Allen, Amnesty' UK Director.

Of the 60 people who were due to be deported on the flight blocked by the Stansted 15, at least one has since been granted permission to remain in the UK, and several more are pursuing asylum claims, according to Amnesty.

Coinciding deportation

As the sentencing got underway in Essex on Wednesday, attention turned to a flight at Birmingham Airport, which had been chartered to deport dozens of people to Jamaica.

"Every single one of these cases is a shocking indictment of this government's pandering to far-right racism," Labour Party MP David Lammy said in a speech to Parliament on Tuesday.

"Why in this country do black lives matter less?"

One London-based Twitter user said her friend was aboard the Jamaica-bound flight and described talking to an "inconsolable" family.

"I've just spoken to his wife," she wrote. "His daughter, (16 last week) and son (13 next week) are inconsolable. Dad's been here for well over 20 years, has nobody in Jamaica. We've all been up all night, very sad day for humanity."

"Have you ever seen a family with water running from their eyes like a tap?" she added.

"It's part shock and part the feeling of helplessness when you see your family ripped apart by deportation."