SEVENTEEN activists pleaded not guilty in court yesterday after they prevented a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport by locking themselves to the wheel of a plane.
Nine women and eight men were charged with obstructing a person engaged in lawful activity and taking part in a demonstration likely to obstruct Stansted Airport.
The defendants appeared at chelmsford magistrates’ Court and were bailed until their trial on September 22.
The action on March 28 prevented the Home Office from deporting up to 50 people to Ghana and Nigeria. It was the first protest of its kind to stop a mass deportation charter flight.
Campaigners say they targeted the flight because the deportations would put lives at risk and tear families apart.
One woman who was due to be deported that evening said: “My ex-husband said he knows I am being deported.
“He is waiting for me. He is planning to kill me. If he kills me who will look after my children?”
End Deportations campaign group’s Emma Hughes, who was involved in the action, said: “Deporting families, friends and community members against their will to untold danger is unacceptable.”
Ms Hughes said that at least 30 people who would have been sent to their home countries in March were not deported, and that campaigners had been in touch with one person who has now been released from detention.
The activists were also from Lesbian and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM) and environmental group Plane Stupid.
LGSM’s Sam Jones accused the government of “snatching people from their beds in the dead of night, handcuffing them and forcing them onto planes with no witnesses,” adding “we me must stop these violent deportations now.”
Plane Stupid’s Susan James said mass deportations were “immoral, unfair and illegal.”
She said: “In the wake of the Brexit vote, this government is more keen than ever to be seen to be ‘tough’ on immigration. But its mass deportations have devastating human consequences.”
Since 2002 the Home Office has organised mass deportations every few months with more than 1,536 people removed from Britain last year on charter flights.
Activists have warned that the deportations are notoriously secretive and devoid of scrutiny.