by Ella Jones
A group of activists, otherwise known as the Stansted 15, chained themselves to a grounded plane to protest a wrongful deportation. Bath Quakers reflect on the Stansted 15’s near miss under terrorism charges.
During the recent Stansted 15 trial, fifteen peaceful protesters were close to being convicted under terrorism laws after chaining themselves to a grounded plane full of deportees to prevent them being forced out of the country. Quakers were quick to respond to the protesters’ needs, upholding core Quaker values of peace, equality, integrity and truth.
Chelmsford Quakers offered solidarity and support throughout the long-awaited trial results, giving the protesters places to sleep and eat. One of the fifteen was a Quaker from Brighton.
Bath Quakers held extended meetings to discuss the trial outcome and to “hold them in the light” at their time of need, says Christine Goodgame-Nobes, who has been part of the Quaker community for at least thirty years.
Ian Wootton and Christine Goodgame-Nobes
“The law that was imposed was really a sledgehammer to crack a nut, because they weren’t in any way, terrorists,” says Goodgame-Nobes. “The law as I understand it had been set up after the Lockerbie bombing, which was a real terrorist outrage.”
The Quaker booklet Advices and Queries book gives a detailed overview of the values involved in Quaker faith and practice. Its advice includes
“bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws.”
Quakers believe we must work to bring about a just and compassionate society. This is what the Stansted 15 were aiming to do by protecting those in danger of deportation.
UN Human Rights Experts believe that the near-miss terrorism charge was most likely threatened as a deterrent to prevent other citizens from partaking in similar offences, according to The Guardian.
In response to this, David Goode, a longstanding attender and recently member of Bath Quakers says he was “relieved that they were not actually going to be imprisoned. Clearly there is a big issue with the title of legislation, which doesn’t seem to be appropriate at all.” Goode suggests that had the case been assessed under another judge with a different approach, it “could have been absolute hell for them.”
Many believe that the Stansted 15 were fortunate to receive extended community service sentences in place of potentially life-long imprisonment under terrorism charges.
Quaker attender Ian Wootton takes a different view. While the maximum potential sentence might have been a extreme “from a legal perspective there is a logic or rationale behind thinking of it in that way..if this group of people have been found guilty of breaking the law, then the law should run its course,” he said.
Meanwhile, at the Quaker United Nations Office, support has been shown towards a new agreement regarding migrant rights. The Global Compact agreement is working towards safe and orderly migration, bringing attention to the divide between UK citizens and migrants as “dehumanising.”
This agreement aims to push for a more welcoming environment for migrants to Britain, suggesting that immigration detention should be used as a last resort, and for a short time only.
The support shown for migrant rights was highlighted by the actions of the Stansted 15 which, Wootton says “our meeting has sympathy for,” as well as “sympathy in general towards people who dissent due to strong feeling.”
Advices and Queries also suggests we must
“respect the laws of the state but let your first loyalty be to God’s purposes. If you feel impelled by strong conviction to break the law, search your conscience deeply.”
Quakers regularly turn to Advices and Queries, the booklet of guidance distilled from centuries of Friends’ experience.
Lawrence Tindall discusses when he was arrested for partaking in a protest as part of the Christian’s Against Nuclear Disarmament (CND) group.
As part of what he calls a “motley Crew of about twelve or fifteen” Tindall joined protesters in invading an airbase in protest of weaponry use. “We drove the van to the end of the runway, threw a roll of carpet over the razor wire fence and walked in,” he explains, “it was like Moses parting the red sea.”
The case was eventually dropped, Tindall says, because the police could not remember which individuals they had arrested. “Don’t get me wrong,” he continues, “the police are very good at what they do, but they don’t really know how to handle peaceful protests.”
Tindall says he felt “it was important to make the protest as just an ordinary member of society.”
- Quakerism is a branch of Christianity that focuses on peace and acceptance. Around since the 1600s, Quakers have rejected formal ministry and gathered in silent meetings to worship their own personal form of transcendence: sharing the belief that there is that of God within everyone.
Quaker Meetings for Worship are usually held for an hour on Sunday mornings, with some branches offering mid-week Meetings.
Find your nearest Quaker meeting house if you want to get involved. And find out more on Quaker Advices and Queries here: https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/chapter/1/