Court jails star Paralympian for gluing himself to plane

24 September 2021, 20:27

James Brown glued himself to a plane in protest.
James Brown glued himself to a plane in protest. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Paralympic star James Brown has been jailed after he superglued himself to the top of a plane as part of Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019.

Judge Gregory Perrins sentenced the activist to 12 months in prison, which he will only serve half of.

It comes after he was found guilty in July of one count of causing a public nuisance, after a jury deliberated for less than an hour.

Brown, who represented himself at his trial, had denied the count, claiming he had "to do something spectacular" to draw attention to the climate crisis.

However, the judge warned that protesters who disrupt people's lives are "not entitled to more lenient treatment" and "will face serious consequences".

The double gold medallist, who has been registered blind since birth, "cynically used" his disability and put his "own life at risk" to carry out the stunt at London City Airport, Judge Perrins said.

He climbed on a British Airways plane due to head to Amsterdam and glued his right hand to the aircraft, also wedging his mobile phone in the door to prevent it from closing.

Read more: Over 500 arrests during Extinction Rebellion protests in London

Some 337 passengers had their flights cancelled, missing birthday celebrations, important business meetings and family events, with the disruption costing the airline around £40,000, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Giving evidence at his trial, the cyclist had 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."

However, the judge 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."

He said he accepted Brown was acting according to his conscience and was motivated "by a desire to bring about a change you genuinely believe is for the benefit of all".

Read more: Sadiq Khan concerned Extinction Rebellion is 'driving people away' from cause

He also added that there must be "some sense of proportion" when sentencing people who commit offences during a protest.

"You are not entitled to more lenient treatment simply because you were protesting about environmental matters as opposed to some other cause," the judge said.

"Everyone in this country has the right to protest and there are many ways in which that can be done without breaking the law.

"The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major, widespread disruption to a major airport, with the inevitable impact that has on the lives of hundreds of people, simply because you think it is the right thing to do.

"It is also important to note that although you claim your actions were intended as a protest, you targeted not those with the power and influence to bring about the change you wish to see, but ordinary people going about their daily lives.

"That was a calculated decision on your part."

Watch: Police clear Extinction Rebellion protesters from London Bridge

Tim Maloney QC, defending Brown at his sentencing hearing, had urged the judge to impose a fine or a community order instead of a jail sentence.

"He has expressed an intention not to become involved in unlawful protest again," he said.

"He regrets it and is determined not to be involved in such activity again."

There were cries of "shame" and "shame on you" among Brown's supporters in the public gallery as he was taken down to the cells, and his solicitors said he would appeal against the sentence.

Raj Chada, from HJA solicitors - the firm representing Brown - said: "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.

"We will be appealing this sentence."

Read more: XR protesters glue themselves to railings inside Science Museum and 'refuse to leave'

Alanna Byrne, from Extinction Rebellion UK, said the group were "shocked and devastated" by the sentence.

"As the host nation for Cop26 this criminalisation of peaceful protesters, when we are so clearly on course for civilisational collapse, makes clear the lack of commitment from our Government to the international negotiations taking place in November," she said.

"We hope that James' courage gives people cause to question the actions of a Government that would rather lock up the messenger than hear the call for action."