‘History will vindicate us’ says ex-Lancaster uni student found guilty of terror charges

Laura Clayson. Photo by Kristian Buus.
Laura Clayson. Photo by Kristian Buus.
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A former Lancaster University student who faces life imprisonment after being found guilty of breaching terror laws said that “history will vindicate us, even though this jury did not”.

Laura Clayson, 28, who was president of Lancaster University Student Union up to 2015, went on trial with 14 other people after helping to block a deportation flight to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Laura Clayson, former President of LUSU

Laura Clayson, former President of LUSU

The Stansted 15 protesters, who stopped the government deportation flight from taking off in March last year, have been found guilty of breaching terror laws.

Lancaster MP Cat Smith said the verdict is a sad day for human rights.

Ms Clayson, along with 14 other activists, was charged with intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, a law passed in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. It has only been used once before in 28 years.

The court heard the protesters secured themselves around the nose wheel and wing of the Boeing 767, with pipes and foam, having cut a hole in the perimeter fence.

They had all pleaded not guilty, but a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court returned a guilty verdict and they now face up to life imprisonment.

Sentencing is due to take place in early February.

Speaking exclusively to the Lancaster Guardian, Ms Clayson said: “We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm. Our action was planned and carried out in a safe way and it is disgustingly ironic that we have been convicted of endangering when it was the Home Office, not us, who were endangering people on that night.

“And they put people in danger every single day, through indefinite incarceration, violently forcing them onto planes and sending them to places where they face serious injury, or even death.

“Eleven of the people due to be on that flight are still at home in Britain as a result of this action: at least two of them are victims of trafficking and two have been given leave to remain, which shows that they should never have been on the flight in the first place.

These people represent the stories of the thousands of others who have been wrongfully deported.

“It is unfair, unjust and unlawful and must be changed. And history will vindicate us even though this jury did not.”

Lancaster MP Cat Smith said: “This verdict is a sad day for human rights, when non-violent protestors are prosecuted for defending the Refugee Convention, and are treated like terrorists.”

She said a Labour government would review the statute book to better guarantee the right to peaceful dissent.

She added: “I was pleased to be able to offer Laura Clayson a personal reference as part of her defence in the trial and I’m personally very sad to learn of the judgement.”

Responding to the verdict in a statement the Stansted 15 said: “We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm. The real crime is the government’s cowardly, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights and the unprecedented use of terror law to crack down on peaceful protest. We must challenge this shocking use of draconian legislation, and continue to demand an immediate end to these secretive deportation charter flights and a full independent public inquiry into the government’s ‘hostile environment’.”

“Justice will not be done until we are exonerated and the Home Office is held to account for the danger it puts people in every single day. It endangers people in dawn raids on their homes, at detention centres and on these brutal flights. The system is out of control. It is unfair, unjust and unlawful and it must be stopped.”

A man who was set to be deported on the flight but has since been granted a right to remain in the UK said: “The Stansted 15 have been found guilty of breaching a barely used terror law. Though the jury were convinced that their actions breached this legislation, there’s no doubt in my mind that these 15 brave people are heroes, not criminals. For me a crime is doing something that is evil, shameful or just wrong - and it’s clear that it is the actions of the Home Office tick all of these boxes - and the Stansted 15 were trying to stop the real crime being committed.

“As the Stansted 15 face their own purgatory - awaiting sentences in the following weeks - I will be praying that they are shown leniency. Without their actions I would have missed my daughter’s birth, and faced the utter injustice of being deported from this country with having my now successful appeal heard. My message to them today is to fight on. Their cause is just, and history will absolve you of the guilt that the system has marked you with.’

Raj Chada, Partner from Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented all 15 of the defendants said: “We are deeply disappointed by today’s verdicts. In our view it is inconceivable that our clients were charged under counter terrorism legislation for what was a just protest against deporting asylum seekers. Hodge Jones & Allen previously represented 13 defendants who protested at Heathrow in similar circumstances to the 15 at Stansted, yet they were not charged with this draconian legislation. We believe this was an abuse of power by the Attorney General and the CPS as they should never have been charged with these offences. The fact is that the actions of these protestors resulted in two people who were about to be wrongfully deported remaining in the UK.”