LONDON (Within the Law) - “You never forget the night you break into an airport.” That’s the remarkable way in which Ben Smoke’s recent article for the Guardian begins. He was among 15 people who broke into Stansted Airport and halted a deportation flight and were charged under laws meant to prevent terrorism.
All 15 saw their conviction quashed this week in a judgement which was withering on both the original trial and the Conservative Government.
“The appellants should not have been prosecuted for the extremely serious offence under section 1(2)(b) of the 1990 Act because their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence,” said Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon.
“There was, in truth, no case to answer.”
The Attorney General at the time, Conservative MP Jeremy Wright QC made the insane decision to charge them under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 which was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing.
They would, in other words, be treated as terrorists.
The result of the appeal proves that they were never terrorists. However, this is how the government treats people who stand up for the rights of immigrants. Whether protestors such as this or so-called ‘activist lawyers’, the government views people who try to hold them to account as enemies of the state.
The rhetoric used against these people has become increasingly extreme. Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have both launched a vitriolic attack against lawyers who have represented people facing deportation.
The result has been a rise in the abuse and in some cases death threats faced by lawyers. According to one firm, the government’s campaign against the law inspired a knife attack against their chambers in which a receptionist was injured.
Such events are more than just a by-product of toxic politics; they will be seen as a sign they are working. We’ve seen it time and time again, be it through the Trump-inspired Capitol attacks or the tragic murder of Jo Cox at the height of the Brexit campaign.
The attempt is to whip up public anger, to intimidate and oppress those who stand in the way, in order to push through a racist and, in many cases, unconstitutional agenda.
As Smoke says, after four long years, the law has finally done the right thing. But what they have endured nothing compared to those who find themselves at the sharpest end of the government’s “hostile environment”.
He movingly writes about the story of one woman from Nigerian, a lesbian who was being held in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. He ex-husband had written to her, claiming he knew she was about to be returned and would be waiting at the airport to kill her.
He also shows the benefit of protest.
“Eleven people who were due to take that flight are still in Britain,” he writes. “At least one was identified as a victim of trafficking and given asylum. Another was here to see the birth of his son. And another person, having received their right to remain, is now working as a nurse.”
Those who write off protestors should think long and hard about that. Even so, many more lives have been destroyed. He talks about people being detained at Napier Barracks in Kent which has suffered a COVID 19 outbreak, and of how deportation flights are still taking place in the middle of a pandemic.
The appeal, he says, vindicates his actions. But scrutiny must remain on the government’s horrendous immigration laws, and the continuing hostile environment which breaks up families and destroys lives. That they resort to terrorism laws to support this repugnant approach says much about the lack of moral accountability seeping out of the door at Number 10.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)