Climate protesters warn of ‘grave consequences’ of imprisonment of ex-Paralympian
A judge has warned protesters who disrupt people’s lives that they “will face serious consequences” by jailing a former Paralympic athlete who has slipped onto the roof of a British Airways plane.
Judge Gregory Perrins said Extinction Rebellion activist James Brown, 56, who has been registered blind since birth, “cynically used” his disability and put his “own life in danger” to perform the stunt at the London City Airport on October 10, 2019.
The two-time gold medalist, from Exeter, boarded the plane, which was bound for Amsterdam, before sticking his right hand to the plane and stuck his cell phone in the door to prevent it to close.
Brown, born in Northern Ireland, who represented Great Britain in cycling and track and field before representing Ireland in cross-country skiing, broadcast the event live until he was fired at the end of one o’clock.
Southwark Crown Court heard that a total of 337 passengers had had their flights canceled, missing birthdays, important business meetings and family events, with the disruption costing the airline around £ 40,000.
Brown, who represented himself at his trial, denied one count of public nuisance, saying he had to “do something spectacular” to draw attention to the climate crisis.
But he was convicted in July after a jury deliberated for less than an hour and Judge Perrins sentenced him to 12 months in prison, half of which he will serve on Friday.
The judge told Brown: “It is important that those who are tempted to seriously disrupt the lives of ordinary members of the public like you have done and then seek to justify it in the name of protest understand that they will be faced with serious consequences.
“There is a clear line between legitimate protest and willful violation, and you knowingly crossed it. “
The warning comes after protesters for Climate Insulate Britain, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, blocked off the port of Dover, Kent, on Friday after wreaking havoc on the M25 on five occasions in the past fifteen weeks .
There were cries of “shame” and “shame on you” from Brown’s supporters in the public gallery as he was taken to cells, and his lawyers said he would appeal the conviction.
The judge said he was okay with Brown acting according to his conscience and was motivated “by a desire to make a change that you really believe is in everyone’s best interest.”
He also said he recognized that there had to be “a certain sense of proportion” when sentencing people who commit offenses during a demonstration.
But he told Brown, “You don’t get more lenient treatment just because you are protesting environmental issues as opposed to some other cause.
“Everyone in this country has the right to protest and there are many ways to do it without breaking the law.
“The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major and widespread disruption at a large airport, with the inevitable impact that has on the lives of hundreds of people, just because you think it is the right thing to do. .
“It is also important to note that even though you claim your actions were meant to protest, you did not target those with the power and influence to bring about the change you want to see, but ordinary people going about it. to their daily occupations.
“It was a calculated decision on your part.”
Tim Maloney QC, defending Brown at his sentencing hearing, had urged the judge to impose a community fine or order instead of jail time.
“He has expressed his intention not to be involved in an illegal demonstration any longer,” he said.
“He regrets it and is determined to no longer be involved in such activity. “
Mr Maloney said Brown had “overcome the obstacles to lead a successful and inspiring life” to compete in five Paralympic Games, pursue a career as a math teacher and work for Gloucestershire County Council in services for children with disabilities.
He has also been described as a successful businessman, having built a conference center aimed at serving the needs of people with disabilities and created Mobiloo, a company that provides facilities for people with disabilities at festivals and events.
Testifying at his trial, Brown, a married father of four, cried as he told jurors, “I was ready to challenge myself, to be afraid, to face the fear, because the fear of a ecological degradation of the climate is so much greater. “
Raj Chada of the HJA Law Firm, the firm representing Brown, said: “We are shocked that James has been sentenced to 12 months in prison.
“James, registered blind and Paralympian gold medalist at five Games, should not be in jail for participating in this event.
“This is a dangerous judgment for our right to freedom of expression, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues.
“We will appeal this conviction. “
Alanna Byrne, of Extinction Rebellion UK, said the group was “shocked and devastated” by the conviction.
She added: “As the host country of Cop26, this criminalization of peaceful protesters, when we are so clearly on the path to the collapse of civilization, clearly shows our government’s lack of commitment to negotiations. international events that take place in November.
“We hope James’ courage gives people a reason to question the actions of a government that would rather lock up the messenger than hear the call to action.”