As the Stansted 15 Avoid Jail, The “Hostile Environment” Continues with Disgraceful New Windrush Flight to Jamaica

8.2.19

The Stansted 15 on Wednesday February 6, 2019, outside Chelmsford Crown Court, on the day they learned that no one would face a custodial sentence for their role in preventing a deportation flight from leaving the airport in March 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

So there was good news on Wednesday, as the Stansted 15 — activists who prevented a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport for west Africa in March 2017 — avoided jail. Three received suspended sentences (with two also receiving 250 hours of community service, with 100 hours for the third), eleven others were given 100 hours of community service, while the 15th “received a 12-month community order with 20 days of rehabilitation”, as the Guardian described it.

However, two troubling aspects of the story remain significant. The first is that the protestors were convicted on charges of terrorism, and, alarmingly, that conviction still stands. As Ash Sardar wrote for the Independent, “Rather than being convicted of aggravated trespass, as other protesters who committed similar offences had been in 2016, the Stansted 15 had an initial trespass charge changed four months into their bail to a charge of ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a scheduled terrorist offence, which potentially carries a life sentence.” The 2016 protest, at Heathrow Airport, against proposals for the airport’s expansion, involved three protestors who were part of the later actions at Stansted — the three who received the suspended sentences. 

Continuing with her analysis of the sentencing in the Independent, Ash Sardar added, “This particular bit of legislation – from the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, if anyone’s interested – was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. Its application in a protest case is completely unprecedented in English courts. You might not agree with the actions of the Stansted 15, but this punitive and misguided use of legislation to criminalise protesters should have you worried regardless.”

Graeme Hayes, a reader in political sociology at Aston University, who observed the entire trial, told the Guardian that, “Although the defendants have not got the custodial sentence, the bringing of a terrorism-related charge against non-violent protesters is a very worrying phenomenon. It’s so far the only case [of its type] in the UK, and points to a chilling of legitimate public dissent.”

The second concern in response to the sentencing doesn’t concern the defendants, but rather the object of their actions — those being forcibly deported from the UK.

In an article for the Guardian, Emma Hughes, one of the Stansted 15, after stating that the trial had been extraordinarily stressful, added, “And yet, however bad things are for us, they are nothing compared with the suffering faced by the people who are forced on to these brutal, secretive, barely legal deportation flights. Those on the flights are often shackled in large waist restraints that make it hard to breathe, and are sent to countries where they face isolation, persecution, destitution or even death. Last year it was revealed that the government wrongfully deported dozens of people, 11 of whom have now died. It is the Home Office that should be on trial.”

After also noting that another 11 people are “still in the UK because we stopped a charter deportation flight”, and that “three have been given the right to stay, the rest are still having their cases heard,” and “[o]ne of those with leave to remain was able to be present for the birth of his daughter”, Hughes then made a point of stating that, on the very day that she and her fellow protestors were spared jail, “the government sent its first chartered deportation flight to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal. The flight contained 35 people, many of whom had come to the UK as children, and who have virtually no relationship with Jamaica. Many will be separated from their children.”

The Windrush scandal, part of the “hostile environment” introduced by Britain’s appallingly racist Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary, primarily involved people who had been born British subjects and had arrived in the UK before 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries (“Windrush” refers to the ship that brought Caribbean migrants to the UK in 1948). In Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, many of these people were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in at least 83 cases (and possibly 81 others), wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office.

Resuming deportation flights to Jamaica

While deportation flights like those to Ghana and Nigeria, stopped by the Stansted 15, have largely continued, deportation flights to Jamaica were suspended in spring 2018. And yet, with inexplicably poor timing, Sajid Javid — who took over as home secretary from Amber Rudd, when she was sacrificed in May’s place as the scapegoat for the Windrush scandal — arranged for a deportation flight to Jamaica to take place on the same day as the Stansted 15 sentencing.

On Monday, two days before the flight was scheduled to depart, Zita Holbourne, the  national co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts UK and the national vice president of the PCS union, condemned the planned deportations. She noted in the Guardian that those scheduled to be removed included someone “who was actually born in the UK but whose mother is from the Windrush generation”, and another person “who has been in the UK for 41 years and arrived at the age of four.” 

She also explained that eleven of those targeted already “had indefinite leave to remain in the UK”, adding that “[m]any of them have never visited Jamaica since leaving and have nobody there.” She also noted that a “young blind man has been told that he can be cared for by his elderly grandmother, despite her having medical evidence to the contrary.” In addition, “More than 40 children will be separated from a deported parent”, and yet “people are being told by the British government that they can parent their children by Skype.” 

Holbourne also told the story of Twane Morgan, one of those due to be deported, who “was detained a couple of weeks ago while signing in with the Home Office”, and who “has been held at Colnbrook immigration removal centre in London ever since.” As she explained, “Morgan is one of a number of Commonwealth soldiers who have served in the British army to be caught up in this. He should be exempt from removal; those who have served in the army are entitled to become British citizens. Morgan enrolled in the army in his early 20s and served two tours in Afghanistan. He was medically discharged after three years with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He received no aftercare, was denied NHS services, was deemed to be an overstayer and developed bipolar disorder. It was not until 2017, 10 years after he was discharged, that he was able to see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him as having complex trauma PTSD. Morgan has five young children and has been with his current partner for eight years. His eldest son told me that he needs his dad in his life. Because of his conditions Morgan also needs the care of his family in the UK. He has no family in Jamaica. The treatment of Commonwealth soldiers is akin to that of the Windrush generation – they should not be facing deportation.”

On the day of the flight, the Guardian covered it extensively. The academic Luke de Noronha picked up on Sajid Javid’s claim that “[e]very single person that will be on that flight that is being deported is a foreign national offender, they are all convicted of serious crimes, very serious crimes”, and stated, “It’s not clear what the home secretary defines as ‘very serious’ here, as it seems that some people on the flight have been convicted of minor offences.” In the case of Akeem, for example, the young blind man mentioned above, who “suffers from epilepsy following a brain tumour as a child”, the extent of his “very serious crimes” seems to be that he “served a four-month sentence for an assault conviction.”

As de Noronha proceeded to explain, “deportation represents a form of double punishment. Deporting an individual after they have served their sentences abandons all notions of rehabilitative justice. But then perhaps this is precisely the point. After all, the idea of rehabilitation has been under attack for decades and being “tough” on crime often seems to include double and triple punishments, for example the gang members who should expect their families to be evicted if they live in council homes.”

After the flight landed in Jamaica, the Guardian reported that, although 50 people had reportedly been due to leave on the flight, the final tally was just 29 people  because the rest — including Twane Morgan — “were able to have their removal cancelled after their lawyers took action.” Despite Savid Javid and the Home Office claiming that the flight contained only rapists and murderers, a breakdown of crimes committed by the offenders indicated, instead, that “one person on the flight had been convicted of murder and four of various sexual offences including rape.” Fourteen, in contrast, had been convicted of drugs offences, and one, Chevon Brown, had been “deported for driving badly”, as Amelia Gentleman explained in a tweet. She added that all of Brown’s family members live in Oxford, and he hasn’t been to Jamaica since he was 14.

One of those facing deportation, but who gained a last-minute reprieve, was “Owen Haisley, a Manchester-based MC and musician who arrived legally in the UK in 1977, with his mother and sister, when he was four years old.” An online petition calling for the flight to be cancelled, which focused on his case in particular, has been signed by over 100,000 people.

Haisley has three children, all British citizens, and was detained last Friday and  held at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre near Heathrow airport. The Guardian explained that he was “reported to have served a sentence for domestic violence in 2015, before undergoing rehabilitation.” He told Sky News, “I understand the offence, and I brought this on myself. What I don’t understand is the Home Office saying my children will do better without me, that they’d be better off only seeing me over Skype. It’s not right. People are being deported and taken away from their families.”

An update on the petition page confirmed that, on Tuesday evening, his deportation was halted, but added, “It is however possible that the Home Office will still try to deport him and those who remain at Harmondsworth IRC in the short term. At present, Owen remains detained indefinitely — so the fight is far from over.”

Following the flight, there were “calls for the UK government to change its stance.” Stephen Shaw, the former prisons ombudsman, who conducted two independent reviews of immigration detention for the Home Office, “said the inclusion of people who had lived in the UK since childhood on the flights was ‘very cruel.’” In his report in July 2018, Shaw had specifically recommended that “foreign national offenders who had been in the UK since childhood should not be removed.”

Omar Khan, from the race equality think-tank the Runnymede Trust, expressed concern about what the Guardian called “the late cancellation of some detainees’ places on the flight.” As Khan described it, “These ad hoc reprieves are a reflection of the dysfunctional nature of the system.” He also, as the paper put it, “raised concerns about the government’s decision to go ahead with the deportation flight before the publication of the Windrush lessons learned review.”

These were not the only critics. When the plans were revealed at the weekend, MPs including David Lammy and Diane Abbott criticised them as “brutal” and “a scandal.” Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, said, “Britain stopped deporting British criminals to Australia in 1868. This forced repatriation is a scandal in itself, but to re-commence it before the compensation scheme for the Home Office’s previous abuses has been rolled out is an insult to the victims who have already been falsely deported or detained by their own government.”

He added, “I have met many Windrush citizens forced into petty crime precisely because of the government’s hostile environment outrageously stripping them of their rights to work, healthcare, housing and benefits.”

Criticism by MPs, Lords and the UN

The day after the flight, MPs and peers called for an end to the UK’s system of indefinite detention in immigration centres, As the Guardian explained, “The UK is the only European country that does not impose time limits” on immigration detention. In what was described as “a highly critical report”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), called the UK’s immigration system “slow, unfair and expensive to run” (£108m a year), and recommended that “detention should be authorised only by decision-makers independent of the Home Office.” They also demanded that a “28-day time limit to end the ‘trauma’ of indefinite detention should be introduced.”

As the Guardian explained, “About 27,000 people a year are detained in Britain for immigration purposes, usually without being given a date for release or deportation. A small proportion are held for more than a year. The report highlighted that “[i]ndefinite detention causes distress and anxiety”, and “can trigger mental illness and exacerbate mental health conditions”, adding, “The lack of a time limit … reduces incentive for the Home Office to progress cases promptly, which would reduce both the impact on detainees and detention costs.” The report also highlighted how “many detainees are wrongly being held in ‘prison-like’ conditions”, and called for there to be “compensation when mistakes are admitted.”

Last July, after Stephen Shaw’s latest report on immigration detention, Volker Turk, the assistant high commissioner of the UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency), “said he hoped the study would result in [time] limits being put in place, with detention only used as a ‘last resort’” as the Independent explained. This followed the British Red Cross calling for a 28-day limit on detention, “after the charity found cases of asylum-seekers being detained for as long as two years and seven months”, and criticism by Amnesty International and Liberty.

On Thursday, experts from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also made a contribution to the debate about the Stansted 15, calling for the UK to “cease the use of security and terrorism-related charges against peaceful protesters.” They “described the use of the charge – which had to be signed off by the attorney general – as disproportionate for non-violent protesters”, as the Guardian put it. In their statement, the experts said, “It appears that such charges were brought to deter others from taking similar peaceful direct action to defend human rights and in particular the protection of asylum seekers.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

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23 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, drawing together coverage of the sentencing of the Stansted 15 – and, on the same day, the latest phase of the Tories’ ongoing “hostile environment.”

    The Stansted 15 were convicted of terrorism offences for blocking a deportation flight in 2017, but they didn’t, in the end, receive custodial sentences, although it is alarming that their conviction – on terrorism-related charges – still stands. In the “hostile environment”, meanwhile, a deportation flight flew to Jamaica with 29 people on board despite last year’s Windrush scandal. Last minute legal challenges prevented another 20 or so from being deported, but few of those removed fitted the government’s claim that they had been convicted of “very serious crimes”, and one, in fact, had been “deported for driving badly”, as the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman explained in a tweet.

    The day after, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) issued a report calling the UK’s immigration system “slow, unfair and expensive to run”, and demanding a 28-day limit on immigration detention (the UK, shamefully, is the only European country that doesn’t impose time limits). At the same time, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also contributed to the debate about the Stansted 15, calling for the UK to “cease the use of security and terrorism-related charges against peaceful protesters.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone taking an interest in this story. It was one that also interested a lot of my US friends during my visit last month. If you have time, please check out the Kings Bay Ploughshares site, about seven Catholic activists, including friends of mine, who are awaiting a trial after they broke into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia on April 4, 2018, and went to three locations on the base where they “used crime scene tape, hammers and hung banners reading: ‘The ultimate logic of racism is genocide – Dr. Martin Luther King’, ‘The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide’ and ‘Nuclear weapons: illegal / immoral.’ They also “brought an indictment charging the US government for crimes against peace.” If convicted, the activists, aged between 55 and 78, could receive ten-year prison sentences.

    There have been 100 Ploughshares/Plowshares actions since 1980, mostly involving the hammering of military equipment to fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares.”

    See: https://www.kingsbayplowshares7.org

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Kings Bay Ploughshares are also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kingsbayplowshares/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalya Wolf wrote:

    criminalising dissent

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the conviction was definitely a step into unacceptable territory, Natalya, and still needs overturning.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    they must be afraid of you.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I think we just have a slightly more robust respect for what the law should and shouldn’t do here, Martin. The conviction was punitive, and sets a horrible precedent, but it wasn’t matched by the sentencing – partly because of how it would be perceived. But don’t forget, the Stansted 15 are all ‘respectable’ people, not – mostly – non-white or conspicuously working class, for example.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    terrorism? who got scared?

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, I see what you mean, Martin. Yes, the authorities have absolutely declared their intention of raising the stakes when it comes to suppressing airport dissent – not just regarding deportation flights, but also environmental protest, and even protests against airport expansion.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    I generally take comfort that, in general, the judiciary almost always, where breaches of the law have demonstrably arisen, show proportionality in understanding that activism is absolutely at the heart and core of our democratic process and that custodial sentencing ultimately brings the law into disrepute. Two thirds of a cake is better than none.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Those are my feelings too, David – at least for “middle class” activists, based on decades of observation of the law at work. This is a very heavy conviction, though, and I think it’s important that it’s challenged, with the robust intention for it to be overturned. Terrorism can’t be allowed to creep into the world of anti-deportation protests.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy I think you’re right about that as a specific precedent we should have none of.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    We’ll need to keep a close eye on the appeal, David. The government, to their shame, will be wanting the terrorism conviction to remain confirmed as a precedent, to deter anyone else tempted to challenge their really rather disgusting deportation policies through direct action.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, their deportation policies help confirm their new status as UKIP in a monkey suit.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, on the one hand the Tories have certainly moved further to the right since the Brexit vote, David, so that deportation is now a major policy for them, but I also find that a lot of people still think Theresa May is kind of put-upon and muddling through when it comes to being the country’s leader at this time of an unprecedented self-inflicted crisis, forgetting that she’s actually a deeply unpleasant racist, as her six years as home secretary showed with a shadow of a doubt: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2016/07/14/as-theresa-may-becomes-prime-minister-a-look-back-at-her-authoritarianism-islamophobia-and-harshness-on-immigration/

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Beth Velkey Brockton wrote:

    Thank you for mentioning the Kings Bay Plowshares, Andy! We have a campaign going for people to hold a sign that says, “I stand with the Kings Bay Plowshare”: https://www.kingsbayplowshares7.org/i-stand-w-kings-bay-plowshares/

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Beth. I met Carmen Trotta and Martha Hennessy at RT’s studios in New York during my visit last month, and I said I’d do something to help publicise their case. I was hoping there’d be a way to build some bridges between British and American activists.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Anne Caron-Delion wrote:

    Amazing Stanstead 15 – thanks for covering this Andy.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    No worries, Anne. It’s a very significant case on so many fronts and ought to be of significance to all decent people, as it involves the scandal of our immigration detention system, ramped-up racism following the EU referendum, the stifling of dissent in general, and the specific singling out and application of terrorism legislation to protests involving airports, where, of course, environmental protests are also perceived as a major problem by the authorities.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Yes Andy – a very significant case and surely the conviction will be quashed on appeal.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s what we must hope, Lindis. The fear is that there’ll be institutional pressure to keep it as a precedent, to provide a deterrent to future protestors that is, on paper at least, as punitive as possible, even if, when to comes to sentencing, the establishment essentially repeats this week’s outcome.

  22. Anna says...

    Appalling! I hardly ever have sympathy for any of my own politicians, but I wholeheartedly supported Tusk’s clueless-Brexit-instigators comment and while Theresa May did not incite people to vote for Brexit, I highly recommend her for a place of honour in a hypothetical after-life hell for her overall contribution to hell on earth for’others’.

    If Chevon Brown was “deported for driving badly”, I suggest Britain also deports back to his native country this reckless driver who caused at least one accident in which someone was hurt and who was born in Greece … https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/46937305.
    He after all can keep in touch with his equally entitled family by Skype – or they can join him in exile if there are more ‘bad drivers’ among them. Greece being one of the EU countries where you can buy citizenship by investing a few hundred thousand Euro’s, he thus can (re)aquire Greek citizenship and what’s more, remain in the EU.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Anna. I took me a little while to work out who the Greek-born reckless driver was. Very funny!
    If only there was similar humour in our Brexit disaster, but as it is we seem to be on board the Titanic heading inexorably towards the iceberg, which is in full view, with no one willing or able to do anything to stop it.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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