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American cleared of air rage charges after flight diversion

Published 15/04/2016

Jeremiah Mathis Thede had been accused of acting in a manner likely to negligently endanger an aircraft
Jeremiah Mathis Thede had been accused of acting in a manner likely to negligently endanger an aircraft

An American man has been cleared of air rage charges following the emergency diversion of a transatlantic flight to Belfast.

Jeremiah Mathis Thede, 42, was accused of acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft after he was refused crackers by cabin crew.

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

The United Airlines service from Rome to Chicago in June last year landed in Northern Ireland after crew became concerned at Mr Thede's behaviour.

His 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."

United has said the safety of its customers and employees is its highest priority.

The Californian denied being aggressive towards flight attendants after one 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.

Mr Thede, from Berkeley near San Francisco, was on an 11-hour flight on June 20 last year.

He 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 repeatedly went to the bathroom and searched his luggage while organising contacts from his trip. Flight attendants claimed he left his meal tray obstructing the aisle and alleged that his behaviour was odd.

Mr Thede's barrister Aaron Thompson quipped that the whole trial was a bit crackers. The prosecution claimed the series of incidents built an overall picture of guilt.

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, noting contradictions in their evidence, and counselled the panel to avoid rumour or speculation.

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 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."

A spokesman for the airline said: "Although disappointed, we respect the decision of the jury in this matter.

"The safety of our customers and employees is United's highest priority."

A Public Prosecution Service (PPS) spokesman said t he decision to prosecute was entirely consistent with the duty to bring cases with a reasonable prospect of a conviction in the public interest.

"A Crown Court judge directed that there was sufficient evidence to warrant placing the defendant on trial for the prosecuted offence.

"The PPS considered that prosecution was considered necessary in the public interest taking into account factors which included the level of disruption and distress caused to the passengers and crew of the aircraft.

"The jury, in exercising their function of determining guilt, decided that the evidence was not sufficient to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt."

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