A British Paralympic gold medallist has been jailed for a year for glueing himself to the roof of a passenger jet in an Extinction Rebellion protest – the first custodial sentence for any action linked to the group.
XR said it was “shocked and devastated” by the sentence handed to James Brown, 56, at Southwark crown court in London on Friday afternoon, by a judge who warned that protesters who disrupt people’s lives “will face serious consequences”.
Judge Gregory Perrins said Brown, from Exeter, who has been registered blind since birth, “cynically used” his disability and put his own life at risk when he staged his protest at London City airport on 10 October 2019, at at the height of XR’s second extended campaign of protests in London.
That day, as hundreds of other XR protesters demonstrated at the airport in protest at expansion plans, Brown had climbed on top of a plane heading to Amsterdam, glued his right hand to its fuselage and wedged his phone in a door frame. He spent an hour livestreaming his protest before he was removed.
Brown’s trial at Southwark crown court heard his direct action led to 337 passengers missing their flights, and that it cost British Airways about £40,000.
Conducting his own defence, Brown said he aimed to draw media attention to the climate crisis. He 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.”
He was found guilty of causing a public nuisance by a jury after less than an hour’s deliberation.
As Perrins passed sentence on Friday, he 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.”
The judge said he accepted Brown was acting according to his conscience. He also said he recognised there must be “some sense of proportion” when sentencing people who commit offences during a protest. But, he told Brown: “You are not entitled to more lenient treatment simply because you were protesting about environmental matters as opposed to some other cause.”
There were cries of “shame” from the public gallery as Brown was taken down to the cells. Brown’s solicitor, Raj Chada, of Hodge Jones Allen, said there would be an appeal against the sentence. “This is a dangerous judgment for our right to free speech, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues,” he said.
“We are shocked and devastated by this news,” said Alannah Byrne, a spokesperson for XR, who called Brown “a hero”.
She said: “To put a partially blind man in jail while the prime minister quotes Kermit the Frog to the UN and recruits the Wombles as the Cop [climate talks] mascots, shows what a mockery our leaders are making of this moment.”
Judge Perrins’ warning came after the climate protesters Insulate Britain, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, blocked the port of Dover, in Kent, on Friday, following five blockades of the M25 in the past fortnight.