Monday 28 May 2018

Man accused of emergency diversion of aircraft found not guilty

Jeremiah Mathis Thede leaves Antrim Crown Court Credit: David Young/PA Wire
Jeremiah Mathis Thede leaves Antrim Crown Court Credit: David Young/PA Wire

Michael McHugh

An American man prosecuted over the emergency diversion of an aircraft has been found not guilty.

Jeremiah Mathis Thede, 42, was accused of acting in a manner likely to negligently endanger an aircraft.

Jurors took less than an hour to find the Californian innocent.

The United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago in June last year landed in Belfast after crew became concerned.

Afterwards Mr Thede's solicitor Patrick Madden said: "The prosecution case and the decision to divert the flight was all based on information which is inaccurate from the cabin crew, it was based on speculation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

"In fact there was simply no credible evidence in this case to suggest that Mr Thede had acted in any way to endanger this flight."

The Californian denied being aggressive towards cabin crew after they refused him pre-flight crackers. His barrister said airline witnesses during his Antrim Crown Court trial had contradicted each other and added they had over-reacted to a series of relatively minor events.

The service diverted to Belfast after staff became worried and claimed they had been approached by passengers - some even moving children away from the agitated accused. None of the fellow travellers have given evidence.

Thede, 42, was on an 11-hour flight on June 20 last year.

The accused, from Berkeley near San Francisco, has previously described how he was down to his last dollars following a long European trip and problems with a credit card and had eaten only an apple during five hours waiting at Rome airport for the delayed flight home.

He has said he requested crackers immediately upon boarding, then repeatedly during the flight, because he was hungry.

Unable to sleep, he proceeded to repeatedly go to the bathroom and search through his luggage while organising contacts from his long European trip. Flight attendants claimed he left his meal tray obstructing the aisle and alleged that his behaviour was odd.

Thede's barrister Aaron Thompson quipped that the whole trial was a bit crackers.

Before sending them away, Judge Desmond Marrinan had told jurors it would be a fatal flaw to just take the crew's word for it and counselled the panel to avoid rumour or speculation.

He said the key issues had included Thede's alleged failure to obey United staff and whether passengers were likely to take matters into their own hands - which may have led to trouble or fighting.

A relief pilot disturbed from his sleep to deal with the incident earlier told the trial Thede was unpredictable and his behaviour was odd.

The judge said: "He formed the view that the defendant was unwilling to obey instructions."

Mr Madden said his client was delighted and relieved at the verdict delivered by the jury of seven men and four women in half an hour. He will now return to the US.

He said they would consider legal proceedings against the airline.

"United Airlines should reflect on this case. They should also consider how they handle complaints from passengers in future."

Press Association

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