No entitlement | 

Former Paralympic athlete from Northern Ireland jailed for plane protest stunt

James Brown superglued himself to the roof of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest
James Brown (photo: Belfast Telegraph/PA)

James Brown (photo: Belfast Telegraph/PA)

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

A former Paralympic athlete has been jailed for a year after he superglued himself to the roof of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest.

Judge Gregory Perrins sentenced James Brown to 12 months’ imprisonment, of which he will serve half, for his actions on the morning of October 10 2019 when he managed to scale the aircraft at London City Airport.

Northern Ireland-born Brown (56), who has been registered blind since birth, was detained by police at the airport after the double gold medallist glued his right hand to the plane, which was destined for Amsterdam.

He then wedged his mobile phone in the door to prevent it from closing which prosecutors said caused disruption to more than 300 British Airways passengers and cost the airline £40,000.

Brown who represented Great Britain in cycling and athletics before going on to represent Ireland in cross-country skiing, spent an hour on the aircraft before he was removed.

James Brown superglued himself to the plane (photo: Extinction Rebellion/PA)

James Brown superglued himself to the plane (photo: Extinction Rebellion/PA)

Brown represented himself at his trial where he argued that he had "to do something spectacular" to draw attention to the climate crisis while denying one count of causing a public nuisance.

But after a jury deliberated for less than an hour he was found guilty at Southwark Crown Court in July and sentenced to jail.

The judge told Brown: "The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major widespread disruption to a major airport... simply because you think it is the right thing to do.

“This is a case in which you acted together with at least 10 other activists to plan and execute a major act of disruption.

“You intended to cause the maximum amount of disruption possible at the airport if not shut it down completely.”

The judge told the “accomplished athlete”: “You cynically used your disability to put your plan into action."

He added: “You put your own life at risk by climbing on top of the plane.”

He said that while Brown was motivated “by a desire to bring about a change you genuinely believe is for the benefit of all”, there must be a “sense of proportionality” when sentencing those who commit offences during a protest.

But he told Brown there is “no entitlement to more lenient treatment” because he was protesting about the environment.

The court heard that Brown had booked his flight on the morning of the stunt and had been offered assistance boarding due to his disability.

Prosecutor Richard Witcombe told the jury during Brown’s trial that he had a bottle of superglue in his luggage that had not been detected by security.

Brown declined an offer by a member of cabin staff to help him to his seat, telling her that he was going to climb on to the roof of the plane.

In an emotional speech, married father-of-four Brown, who runs a charity, wept as he told jurors: “I was prepared to challenge myself, to be scared, to face the fear, because the fear of climate ecological breakdown is so much greater.

“My protest, the purpose I hope is clear, my motivation was to maximise media attention to the climate crisis, which back at that time was hardly receiving any.”

Tim Maloney QC, defending Brown at his sentencing hearing, said he had expressed an intention “not to become involved in unlawful protest again”.

Mr Maloney said Brown had competed at five Paralympic games and become a successful businessman as he managed to overcome “the barriers to live a successful and inspiring life”.

“There is so much more to his life than sporting excellence,” he said as he described Brown’s career as a maths teacher before working for Gloucestershire County council in disabled children’s services.

He also built a conference centre aimed at meeting the needs of disabled people and set up Mobiloo, a company which provides facilities for disabled people at festivals and events.

Raj Chada, from HJA solicitors, the firm representing Brown said he will be appealing against the sentence.

“We are shocked that James has been sentenced to 12 months prison.

“James, registered blind and a gold winning Paralympian at five games should not be in prison for taking part in this protest.

“This a dangerous judgment for our right to free speech, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues.”

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