Blind activist who staged plane protest released on bail pending appeal ruling

·3 min read

A former Paralympic athlete given a 12-month jail sentence 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 been released on bail pending a ruling on an appeal.

Extinction Rebellion activist James Brown, 57, from Exeter, Devon, was jailed by a judge at Southwark Crown Court in September after being convicted of causing a public nuisance at an earlier trial.

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

They said there had been no reason to charge Brown 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.

Extinction Rebellion protests
Protesters blocking the road outside City Airport during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Lawyers representing Brown also told appeal judges that custody was not justified on the facts of the case.

They said the 12-month term was “manifestly disproportionate” and said he was suffering “unique hardship” in prison because of his disability.

Three appeal judges, Lord Burnett – the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Goss, said they would deliver a ruling on the appeal on a date to be fixed.

But they said Brown, who watched the appeal hearing via a video link from prison, could be released on bail pending the delivery of their ruling.

Judges imposed a bail condition that bars Brown from entering any airport where commercial flights operate.

Judge Gregory Perrins, who had jailed Brown, said when passing sentence that Brown 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 on to 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.

Northern Ireland-born Brown, who represented Great Britain in cycling and athletics before going on to represent Ireland in cross-country skiing, livestreamed the protest until he was removed after an hour.

Southwark Crown Court heard that 337 passengers had their flights cancelled, missing birthday celebrations, 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 causing a public nuisance, claiming he had “to do something spectacular” to draw attention to the climate crisis.

But he was found guilty in July after a jury deliberated for less than an hour.

Judge Perrins had told Brown: “It is important that those who are tempted to seriously disrupt the lives of ordinary members of the public in the way that you did and then seek to justify it in the name of protest understand that they will face serious consequences.

“There is a clear dividing line between legitimate protest and deliberate offending, and you knowingly crossed it.”

After the appeal hearing, Brown said, in a telephone conversation with the PA news agency from Wandsworth prison: “I am thrilled, I am relieved, I am excited to be going home.

“And I am tired. It’s been a hard slog.

“I’m looking forward to the ruling with interest.”

He added: “I have not changed my mind about the absolute need to protest.

“I cannot see what else is going to bring about change.

“All the gains we have made throughout history have come about through peaceful protest.”

He went on: “I think further protest will be necessary.”

Brown’s daughter, Alice Brown, 27, from Stroud, Gloucestershire, said after the ruling: “I am delighted.

“I am not exactly sure what it means in terms of the appeal judgment. But the inescapable stresses he has been under in prison – they are over now.”

She added: “I was amazed by the sentence – and I wasn’t. I was amazed because it was a necessary protest. But I feel this is the way we are heading with this Government.”

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