On Monday 10 December, two months after the trial began, myself and the 14 other activists that make up the Stansted 15 were convicted of “intentional disruption of an aerodrome in such a way that is likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome”. This is a terror-related charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
As we were called into court that morning, I knew we were being found guilty. The direction of the trial and the way the judge’s summary framed things, there was no way we were getting a unanimous acquittal. And so, we sat there holding each other’s hands listening as one by one, we each had our names read out, followed by the word ‘guilty’.
It was a real blow. A few of us were crying. But even so, as the judge asked us to stand, I stood tall because I know that what we did that night was right. We decided to take action back in March 2017 because people’s lives were in danger. We didn’t endanger anyone that night. But the Home Office did: by attempting to force people on to these brutal deportation flights and send them to unsafe places.
Following the verdict, we were all in a state of shock. We mostly stayed in the waiting room of the court, not quite sure what to do next.
While sitting there, a couple of women from the Crossroads Women’s Centre came to say how sorry they were. They were both in the process of applying for asylum and said that if this is how the state treats us – citizens – then how can they expect any better? As we were chatting, I asked about their cases. Both of them had been waiting for seven or eight years. Whilst en route to court one of them had had her claim rejected again. “I’m used to it” she said. “Something like this happens every year at Christmas.”
That short conversation put things in perspective. We had a ten-week trial, but it is nothing compared to the countless people going through the brutal immigration system. Some of us might go to jail, but we will know exactly how long for and we will continue to be supported by thousands of people. But over 30,000 people a year are put in immigration detention centres where they can be held indefinitely and have no idea when they will be released or if they will be deported. We mustn’t forget that it is the people on the frontlines of the ‘hostile environment’ that need our solidarity most and that that is what our action was about.
The day after the verdict we held a demo outside the Home Office. At barely a day’s notice, on a cold December night, over a thousand people came to show their support and rage at both our conviction and the ‘hostile environment’. They stayed for over an hour and a half listening to speeches, and testimonies from people who were due to be on the plane we stopped.
It was an amazing, moving and healing space. As well as a bit weird with so many people wanting to say hello - it felt like we were celebrities. I appreciate the support so much. I just hope this energy can continue and be focused where it is needed most: supporting those on the frontlines and shutting down the border regime.
Today is International Migrants’ Day and at least 16 demonstrations have been called across the UK by Unis Resist Border Controls; standing in solidarity with us, calling for an end to the government’s hostile environment, closing all detention centres and an end to all deportations. There is an amazing energy around at the moment. Not just because of our case and its implications for wider protest movements, but also in response to the Windrush scandal and a growing presence of the far-right on our streets. For anyone who’s wondering what to do, my suggestion is to look around your local area. There are countless migrant support groups that need people to help out, if you have a spare room you could host a destitute asylum seeker, and if you want to take or support direct action, then look for campaign groups or find help from a training collective to help start one.
Our journey with this trial continues in February when we are sentenced. We are calling for people to come down to Chelmsford Crown court to show support and outrage at the use of anti-terror law on protestors. We’ve also got a crowdfunder and petition to help with our campaign.
Sooner or later, our struggle related to this trial will be over. However, the wider struggle against charter flights, the hostile environment and against borders must continue. This is where I hope people can direct the majority of their energy. We took this action to respond to people’s calls for solidarity and justice. Until radical changes happen, those calls will continue. And it’s down to all of us to answer.