A blind former paralympic athlete has been jailed for superglueing himself to the roof of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion climate protest.
Double-gold-medallist James Brown scaled the aircraft at London City Airport in October 2019 to demonstrate against the damage caused by flights.
He was found guilty at Southwark Crown Court in July of causing a public nuisance, and has now been sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, of which he will serve half.
His solicitor said the sentence was a “dangerous judgment for our right to free speech and our right to protest” and that Brown would appeal against it.
Extinction Rebellion, for whom it was a first custodial sentence, said it was “shocked and devastated”.
Northern Ireland-born Brown, who represented Great Britain in cycling and athletics and represented Ireland in cross-country skiing, glued one hand to the plane before wedging his mobile phone in the door to prevent it from closing.
He spent an hour on the aircraft, live-streaming his protest on Facebook, before firefighters removed him.
Prosecutors said he caused disruption to more than 300 passengers, costing the airline £40,000.
Brown, 56, from Exeter, claimed he had to do “something spectacular” to draw attention to the climate crisis, saying he was demonstrating against “government inaction” on climate and ecological breakdown.
Judge Gregory Perrins told Brown: “The right to protest does not entitle you to cause major widespread disruption to a major airport... simply because you think it is the right thing to do.”
He added: “This is a case in which you acted together with at least 10 other activists to plan and execute a major act of disruption.
“You intended to cause the maximum amount of disruption possible at the airport, if not shut it down completely.
He went on: “You cynically used your disability to put your plan into action”.
Giving evidence during the trial, Brown 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.”
In an emotional speech, married father-of-four Brown, who runs a charity, said: “My protest, the purpose I hope is clear, my motivation was to maximise media attention to the climate crisis, which back at that time was hardly receiving any.”
Tim Maloney QC, defending Brown at his sentencing hearing, said: “He has expressed an intention not to become involved in unlawful protest again.”
Mr Maloney said Brown was a maths teacher and worked in disabled children’s services.
He also built a conference centre to meet the needs of disabled people and set up a company that provides facilities for disabled people at festivals and events.
Solicitor Raj Chada, who acts for Extinction Rebellion, said: ”We are shocked that James has been sentenced to 12 months in prison.
“James, registered blind and a gold-winning paralympian at five games, should not be in prison for taking part in this protest.
“This is 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.”
Alanna Byrne of Extinction Rebellion UK, said: ”We are shocked and devastated by this news.
“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 in November.
“We hope that James’s courage gives people cause to question the actions of a government that would rather lock up the messenger than hear the call for action.”