Blind protester jailed for plane stunt at London City Airport
Henry Vaughan, PA
- Credit: PA
A former Paralympian who superglued himself to the roof of a plane at London City Airport has been jailed.
Activist James Brown, 56, managed to scale the British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest at the Royal Docks travel hub on October 10, 2019.
Judge Gregory Perrins said Brown, 56, who has been registered blind since birth, “cynically used” his disability and put his “own life at risk” to carry out the stunt.
The dual gold medallist from Exeter climbed on top of the aircraft, which was destined for Amsterdam, glued his right hand to it and wedged his mobile phone in the door to prevent it from closing.
Brown livestreamed the protest until he was removed after an hour.
At Southwark Crown Court today (Friday, September 24), he was sentenced to 12 months in jail, of which he will serve half.
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Judge Perrins told Brown: “It is important that those who are tempted to seriously disrupt the lives of ordinary members of the public in the way that you did and then seek to justify it in the name of protest understand that they will face serious consequences.
“There is a clear dividing line between legitimate protest and deliberate offending, and you knowingly crossed it.”
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Brown’s solicitors said he will appeal against the sentence.
Brown, who represented himself at his trial, denied one count of causing a public nuisance, claiming he had “to do something spectacular” to draw attention to the climate crisis.
But he was found guilty in July after a jury deliberated for less than an hour.
The court heard a total of 337 passengers had their flights cancelled - missing birthday celebrations, important business meetings and family events - and the disruption cost the airline around £40,000.
Judge Perrins said he accepted Brown was acting according to his conscience and was motivated “by a desire to bring about a change you genuinely believe is for the benefit of all”.
He also said he recognised there must be “some sense of proportion” when sentencing people who commit offences during a protest.
But he told Brown: “You are not entitled to more lenient treatment simply because you were protesting about environmental matters as opposed to some other cause.
“Everyone in this country has the right to protest and there are many ways in which that can be done without breaking the law.
“The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major, widespread disruption to a major airport, with the inevitable impact that has on the lives of hundreds of people, simply because you think it is the right thing to do.
“It is also important to note that although you claim your actions were intended as a protest, you targeted not those with the power and influence to bring about the change you wish to see, but ordinary people going about their daily lives.
“That was a calculated decision on your part.”
Tim Maloney QC, defending Brown at his sentencing hearing, urged the judge to impose a fine or a community order instead of a jail sentence.
“He has expressed an intention not to become involved in unlawful protest again,” he said.
“He regrets it and is determined not to be involved in such activity again.”
Mr Maloney said Brown has “overcome the barriers to live a successful and inspiring life” to compete at five Paralympic Games, pursue a career as a maths teacher and work for Gloucestershire County Council in disabled children’s services.
He was also described as a successful businessman, having built a conference centre aimed at meeting the needs of disabled people and set up company Mobiloo, which provides facilities for disabled people at festivals and events.
Giving evidence at his trial, married father-of-four Brown wept as he told jurors: “I was prepared to challenge myself, to be scared, to face the fear, because the fear of climate ecological breakdown is so much greater.”