Freedom News

Brook House blockaders fight punitive public nuisance charge

Three people are on trial from yesterday, charged with causing a public nuisance for blocking a road outside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport in November 2021. They were preventing people being forcibly removed on a flight to Jamaica. They will be tried by a jury, with the trial listed for seven days.

On 9th November 2021, the three protestors locked on to each other using metal pipes on a road outside Brook House. In the end, just four people boarded the flight from Birmingham airport, from an original list of more than 50.

They have crowdfunded almost £20,000 to support the costs of their case, with more than 750 people donating. There is a solidarity rally organised on the morning of the trial, at which family members of people who who were intended to be on this flight are expected to speak, alongside representatives from Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, SOAS Detainee Support, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants and Stop Deportations.

Public nuisance is an archaic common law offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It has been described by the Law Commission as “unclear and ill-defined”, and the common law offence was abolished last year after it became a statutory offence under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 with a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. Historically, it has been used to prosecute and criminalise gay men and women for displays of affection in public. Other protestors charged with causing a public nuisance include the Paralympian James Brown, who was convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison for glueing himself to a plane at London City Airport to protest about the climate crisis.

The deportation flight to Jamaica in November 2021 was initially intended to carry as many as 50 people. They included a 20-year-old woman who had been in the country since she was 13 and has no relatives in Jamaica. Three allegedly had direct Windrush connections through grandparents or other older relatives. At least ten had come to Britain aged 16 or younger, and five had come at 10 or younger. Nine of them had been in the UK for 20 years or longer. Many of them have British children, and up to 24 children would have lost their fathers had the flight left with all intended.

The trial of these three protestors is taking place within the context of a government crackdown on the right to protest in the UK, along with an increasingly punitive and hostile rhetorical and legislative approach to migration. The 2023 Public Order Act has introduced new criminal offences which will have a chilling effect on non-violent civil disobedience of the kind undertaken by the Brook House blockaders. These offences include the criminalisation of “locking on and being equipped to lock on”, “obstructing major transport works”, and “interfering with key national infrastructure.” While the Act specifically names environmental activist groups, the legislation will impact protestors taking direct action on a range of urgent issues. 

At the same time, the government is pushing to expand the UK’s detention estate and create increasingly harsh conditions for people migrating to the UK, through the 2022 Nationality and Borders Act and the 2023 Illegal Migration Bill. In an April 2023 briefing, JCWI has called the latter “a dangerous and senseless piece of legislation, which will cause untold harm and suffering to thousands of people and breach international human rights laws.” The Nationality and Borders Act and proposed changes in the ‘Illegal Immigration’ Bill will result in some of the most hostile and authoritarian changes to refugee protection, namely an effective asylum ban. The lack of safe routes to the UK means people who are forced to cross the channel to seek safety will either be deported to Rwanda or back to the country they fled. This plan has been condemned by a wide range of human rights organisations, including the Refugee Council, Freedom from Torture and Rainbow Migration

This legislative agenda, along with restrictions to protest, has created particularly dangerous conditions for activists like the Brook House blockaders, who oppose the UK’s hostile environment for migrants.

A spokesperson for Stop Deportations said:

Blocking Brook House detention centre prevented people from being violently and cruelly taken away from their families and loved ones on a deportation flight. Many of those who were due to be deported to Jamaica arrived in the UK as children and have family here, including children of their own, some had Windrush connections and some are potential trafficking survivors. They did not receive proper legal advice or time to challenge their deportation, so direct action was necessary to prevent it.

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