Northern Ireland

American cleared of air rage charges may sue airline

Jeremiah Thede (right) with his solicitor Patrick Madden. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Jeremiah Thede (right) with his solicitor Patrick Madden. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

AN AMERICAN man cleared of air rage charges following the emergency diversion of a transatlantic flight to Belfast has said he may now seek compensation from the airline.

Jeremiah Mathis Thede (42) was accused of acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft after he was refused crackers by cabin crew.

The United Airlines service from Rome to Chicago in June last year landed in Northern Ireland after staff became concerned at Mr Thede's behaviour.

However, jurors took less than an hour to find the Californian not guilty after a two-week trial.

His solicitor Patrick Madden said afterwards the prosecution case and decision to divert the flight was based on "speculation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation".

"In fact there was simply no credible evidence in this case to suggest that Mr Thede had acted in any way to endanger this flight."

Mr Thede, who has now had his passport returned after being held in Northern Ireland for 10 months, denied being aggressive towards flight attendants after one refused him pre-flight crackers.

His barrister said airline witnesses during his Antrim Crown Court trial had contradicted each other and had over-reacted to a series of relatively minor events.

The service diverted to Belfast after staff became worried and claimed they had been approached by passengers - some even moving children away from the agitated accused.

Mr Thede, from Berkeley near San Francisco, was on an 11-hour flight which had to dump thousands of litres of fuel before making the unscheduled stop at Belfast International Airport.

The 264 passengers had to wait almost 24 hours before the plane could take off again.

Mr Thede described how he was down to his last dollars following a long European trip and problems with a credit card, and had eaten only an apple during five hours waiting at Rome airport for the delayed flight home.

He has said he requested crackers immediately upon boarding, then repeatedly during the flight, because he was hungry.

Unable to sleep, he repeatedly went to the bathroom and searched his luggage while organising contacts from his trip. Flight attendants claimed he left his meal tray obstructing the aisle and alleged that his behaviour was odd.

Mr Thede's barrister Aaron Thompson quipped that the whole trial was a bit crackers.

The prosecution claimed the series of incidents built an overall picture of guilt.

However, Mr Madden said his client was delighted and relieved at the verdict delivered by the jury of seven men and four women in half an hour.

He said they would now consider legal proceedings against the airline.

"United Airlines should reflect on this case. They should also consider how they handle complaints from passengers in future."

A spokesman for the airline said: "Although disappointed, we respect the decision of the jury in this matter.

"The safety of our customers and employees is United's highest priority."

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) also defended bringing the case, during which travel costs of witnesses were understood to have been mostly covered by United Airlines.

"A Crown Court judge directed that there was sufficient evidence to warrant placing the defendant on trial for the prosecuted offence," a spokesman said.

"The PPS considered that prosecution was considered necessary in the public interest taking into account factors which included the level of disruption and distress caused to the passengers and crew of the aircraft.

"The jury, in exercising their function of determining guilt, decided that the evidence was not sufficient to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt."