29 January 2021 by

Inside Stansted Airport, the place this incident occurred

Thacker & Ors v R. [2021] EWCA Crim 97 (29 January 2021), judgment here

The Court docket of Attraction held at the moment {that a} group of activists who broke into Stansted Airport in an act of protest ought to “by no means have been prosecuted” for an “extraordinarily critical” terror-related offence below s.1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 (“AMSA”).


The defendants/appellants on this case had been a bunch of activists who’ve turn into referred to as the “Stansted 15”.

On 27 March 2017, the appellants surrounded a Boeing 767 at Stansted Airport which had been chartered by the Dwelling Workplace for the aim of deporting 60 people to Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Geared up with makeshift tripods comprised of scaffolding pipes and a few builder’s foam, the appellants lower by the perimeter fence of the airport and used the tripods a to lock themselves collectively, surrounding a aircraft and utilizing the froth to safe the locking mechanisms. By ‘locking on’ to one another, the group prevented the usage of the aircraft.

Following this motion, the appellants had been initially charged with “aggravated trespass” opposite to s.68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (“CJPOA”). Aggravated trespass is a comparatively minor public order offence, generally used to cost activists concerned in actions reminiscent of picketing at personal venues or sabotaging hunts on personal land. It’s dedicated the place a defendant trespasses for the needs of deliberately obstructing, disrupting, or intimidating others from finishing up ‘lawful actions’. The utmost penalty for the offence is Three months imprisonment, or a high quality of £2500, or each. First time offenders might usually count on to face a small high quality.

Three months following that preliminary cost, the CPS determined as a substitute to cost the appellants with “endangering security at an aerodrome”, opposite to s.1(2)(b) ASMA. Beneath this part,

it’s an offence for any particular person via any system, substance or weapon unlawfully and deliberately—

(a) to destroy or severely to break—

(i) property used for the supply of any amenities at an aerodrome serving worldwide civil aviation (together with any equipment or tools so used), or

(ii) any plane which is at such an aerodrome however is just not in service, or

(b) to disrupt the companies of such an aerodrome,

in such a method as to hazard or be prone to endanger the protected operation of the aerodrome or the protection of individuals on the aerodrome.

It is a way more critical offence than the aggravated trespass initially charged. It could actually carry a most sentence of life imprisonment. Part 1 AMSA implements into home regulation the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Illegal Acts of Violence at Airports Serving Worldwide Aviation (“Montreal Protocol’), a world counter-terrorism conference, which supplemented the sooner 1971 Conference for the Suppression of Illegal Acts in opposition to the Security of Worldwide Aviation (“Montreal Conference”). The laws was launched within the wake of the Lockerbie bombing and is a “Conference offence” for the needs of the sch.1 Terrorism 2006 (“TA 2006”).

On 10th December 2018, the appellants had been convicted of the ASMA offence within the Crown Court docket at Chelmsford. Two appellants obtained suspended sentences of imprisonment; the others had been sentenced to group orders.


There have been 5 grounds superior earlier than the Court docket of Attraction:

  1. Floor 1: the decide misinterpreted s.1(2)(b) ASMA within the gentle of its worldwide and home regulation context. That is an offence which is directed to critical violence typically of a terrorist nature, and never the a lot decrease degree of dangers generated by the actions of the appellants. Additional, the decide erred in his evaluation of the constituent parts of the offence.
  2. Floor 2: the decide ought to have ordered disclosure and may have stayed the prosecution on the premise that the Legal professional Normal’s consent was wrongly given.
  3. Floor 3: the decide mustn’t have withdrawn defences below part Three of the Felony Regulation Act 1967 (stopping crime) and of necessity/duress of circumstances from the jury.
  4. Floor 4: the decide’s summing-up lacked stability in that he commented on features of danger of hurt arising from the appellant’s motion that went past the arguments superior or proof relied on by the Crown.
  5. Floor 5: the decide must have directed the jury not to attract opposed inferences from the appellants’ no remark interviews.

Permitting the attraction on the primary floor and quashing the appellants’ convictions, the Court docket dominated at [113] that

The appellants mustn’t have been prosecuted for the extraordinarily critical offence below part 1(2)(b) of the 1990 Act as a result of their conduct didn’t fulfill the assorted parts of the offence. There was, in fact, no case to reply. We recognise that the assorted abstract solely offences with which the appellants had been initially charged, if proved, may properly not replicate the gravity of their actions. That, nonetheless, doesn’t permit the usage of an offence which goals at conduct of a distinct nature.


The primary floor was the one profitable floor of attraction, however that was all that was essential to quash the convictions. Giving judgment for the Court docket the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon

  • rejected the Crown’s submission that the Montreal Protocol was irrelevant as an support to building [58];
  • held that the appellants’ actions had been “not readily captured by the language and functions of the Protocol” however {that a} profitable attraction however required statutory wording that was “unclear, ambiguous, or would result in manifestly absurd or unreasonable outcomes” [62-63];
  • thought-about that the 2 potential “keys to unlocking this door” had been the phrases “via … unlawfully and deliberately” and “system [or] substance” [64];
  • dominated that the phrases “system or substance” (though actually vast sufficient to embody the tools utilized by the appellants) had been ambiguous and unclear and it was appropriate to construe them narrowly on this context as that means “intrinsically harmful” gadgets or substances [66-67];
  • thought-about that the tripods and builder’s foam weren’t inherently harmful, or not less than that there was no proof earlier than the jury that the gadgets or substance had been able to inflicting the form of injury envisioned [66-67];
  • concluded that mere presence on the scene in possession of gadgets and substances which aren’t inherently harmful falls wanting being adequate to fulfill the statutory standards [76].

Moreover, the creation of a danger to security, nonetheless low, was not sufficient for this offence to be made out [80]. It requires proof of “probably endangerment to security” and that, in keeping with the Court docket, launched two {qualifications}:

The primary is that the possibilities of the hazard arising should transcend a sure diploma of probability and the second is that it have to be of a adequate nature and diploma to quantity to endangerment, i.e. to one thing that will correctly be described as a peril. [80]

This composite take a look at was not made out:

The appellants’ actions didn’t probably endanger the protected operation of this explicit plane, nonetheless much less the aerodrome as a complete or the protection of individuals current. Secondly, and now considered by way of their oblique penalties, insofar because the speedy and prudent actions taken by Stansted airport had been causally linked to the appellants’ actions and may due to this fact be attributed to them ultimately, these security measures didn’t themselves probably endanger the protected operation of the airport or the protection of individuals current. [80]

Each the Crown’s case and the summing-up collapsed the important distinction between “danger” and “probably hazard” and fell into error by treating a critical terror-related offence as if it had been “akin to a well being and security provision”. Taking the Crown’s case at its highest, and contemplating all related potential penalties, it couldn’t be established to the legal commonplace that the actions of the appellants created disruption to the companies of Stansted airport which was prone to endanger its protected operation or the protection of individuals there.


The Court docket thought-about that the trial decide had rightly withdrawn three attainable defences from the jury: necessity, duress, and s.Three Felony Regulation Act 1967 (which allows the usage of affordable drive within the prevention of crime).

The appellants’ acts needed to be thought-about within the context of a functioning state ruled by the rule of regulation [101]. In that context,

the decide was proper to characterise the appellants’ conduct as direct motion. The appellants’ actual cause for halting this flight was that they consider that every one removals and deportations are “unlawful” within the sense wherein they’d select to make use of the time period. Basically, due to this fact, this was the appellants searching for to take the regulation into their very own palms.

The defence of necessity was not a correct matter to place earlier than the jury, and it was accepted that the remaining defences failed if that failed [102].


Floor 5 additionally failed. In respect of these appellants who didn’t testify, the usual opposed inference route below part 35 CJPOA was given. In relation to the failure to reply questions at police interview, the decide mentioned nothing. The absence of any particular warning to the jury not to attract an opposed inference from the failure to reply police questions at interview wouldn’t have assisted and created no unfairness to the appellants [110].


Grounds 2 and Four had been thought-about and dismissed collectively. The Court docket recommended the decide on the best way he dealt with the trial, regardless of the result of the attraction. There was additionally no cause to impugn the choice of the Legal professional Normal to sanction the prosecution [111-112].


This case has been controversial, drawing consideration each nationally and internationally. Following the preliminary convictions, a joint letter was despatched to the Authorities by UN specialists, together with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Particular Rapporteur within the promotion and safety of the fitting to freedom of opinion and expression, the Particular Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Particular Rapporteur on the promotion and safety of human rights and elementary freedoms when countering terrorism. The UN specialists urged the UK authorities to not use safety and terrorism-related laws to prosecute peaceable protesters.

The failure of the bottom referring to necessity, duress and s.Three CLA are unlikely to shock these with expertise of defending protestors in direct motion circumstances. However, it’s notable that the actions of the appellants did stop the deportation of 5 individuals on the flight who’ve consequently been in a position to set up their authorized proper to stay within the UK, together with three on human rights grounds. A kind of has been granted asylum as a sufferer of human trafficking. In whole, of the 60 individuals as a consequence of be on the deportation flight, eleven reportedly stay within the nation.

Amongst the human rights group who’ve celebrated the ruling are Amnesty UK, who welcomed “an excellent day for justice” and Liberty, who hailed “a serious victory for protest rights” and deprecated the now-quashed convictions, calling them “a part of a sustained assault on the fitting to protest.”

Samuel March is a pupil at 5 Paper Buildings. He tweets at @Sam_Oscar_March