Northern Ireland news

Airliner climate crisis protester has sentence cut by appeal judges

Extinction Rebellion activist James Brown, of Exeter, Devon, was jailed by a judge at Southwark Crown Court in September after being convicted of causing a public nuisance. Picture by Extinction Rebellion/PA Wire
Brian Farmer, PA

A former Paralympic athlete given a 12-month jail term after supergluing himself to the roof of a British Airways plane at London City Airport in a bid to draw attention to the climate crisis has had his sentence cut to four months by appeal judges.

Extinction Rebellion activist James Brown, of Exeter, Devon, whose family are from Belfast, was jailed by a judge at Southwark Crown Court in September after being convicted of causing a public nuisance.

Lawyers representing Brown, who has been registered blind since birth, challenged his conviction and sentence at a Court of Appeal hearing in London in December.

Three appeal judges, Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Goss, ruled on Friday that the 12-month jail term should be cut to four months.

They dismissed his appeal against conviction.

The three judges had said at the appeal hearing that Brown, who is in his late 50s, could be released on bail, pending the delivery of their ruling.

Extinction Rebellion activist James Brown, 56, on top of a plane on the morning of October 10 2019 during a protest against flying at London City Airport. Picture by Extinction Rebellion/PA Wire 

They imposed a bail condition which barred him from entering any airport where commercial flights operate.

Lawyers representing Brown said there had been no reason to charge him with causing a public nuisance, questioned the proportionality of the decision to bring the charge, and said he could have been charged with aggravated trespass.

They also told appeal judges that custody was not justified on the facts of the case.

Lawyers argued that the 12-month term was “manifestly disproportionate” and said Brown suffered “unique hardship” in prison because of his disability.

Judge Gregory Perrins, who had jailed Brown, said when passing sentence after the trial that he had “cynically used” his disability and put his “own life at risk” to carry out the stunt at London City Airport on October 10 2019.

The double gold medallist climbed onto the plane, which was destined for Amsterdam, before gluing his right hand to the aircraft and wedging his mobile phone in the door to prevent it from closing.

He livestreamed the protest until he was removed after an hour.

Brown, whose family are from Belfast, represented Great Britain in cycling and athletics before going on to represent Ireland in cross-country skiing.

Southwark Crown Court heard that 337 passengers had their flights cancelled, with the disruption costing the airline around £40,000.

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 after a jury deliberated for less than an hour.

Lord Burnett said, in a written ruling, that people who caused major disruption at airports and were convicted of causing a public nuisance ran “a substantial risk” of going to prison.

But he said appeal judges had considered whether a 12-month jail term was “manifestly excessive” in the light of Brown’s conduct, antecedents and disability.

He added: “Taking account of all the circumstances, we have concluded that the sentence should be one of four months’ imprisonment.”

Lord Burnett said the judges’ “starting point” took account of the “impact” of Brown’s conduct as well as the “broader intention to cause wider disruption and the need for deterrence”.

He added: “The right to peaceful protest should not lead to tolerance of behaviour that is far removed from conveying a strongly held conviction but instead seeks to cause chaos and as much harm as possible to members of the public.”

Lord Burnett said judges had concluded that Brown’s conviction was not “unsafe”.

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