An Irish international human rights lawyer, who was jailed after being caught on camera hurling abusive rants at Air India crew on a flight from Mumbai to London, has been found dead just days after her release from prison in the UK.
Simone Burns, who was sentenced to six months in April after racially abusing and spitting at the crew for being refused alcohol mid-air last year, is thought to have committed suicide. The 50-year-old was released from Bronzefield women's prison on licence, or parole, on May 20 and was found dead at the foot of the Beachy Head cliffs in East Sussex, in the south-east of England, 13 days later.
"The body of a woman found at Beachy Head on June 1 has been identified as Simone Burns from Hove," a local Sussex Police spokesperson said. "The death is not being treated as suspicious and the next of kin have been informed. The matter has been passed to the coroner's officer, the spokesperson said.
The barrister, who was born in Belfast in Northern Ireland and also used the surname O'Broin, had pleaded guilty to being drunk on an aircraft and assault during a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court in London back in April.
Following her death, friends said that the sentence had a severe impact on Burns, whose mid-air rant went viral on social media. It emerged in court that she spat at a flight attendant during her foul-mouthed racist tirade after she was refused alcohol mid-air in November last.
"The experience of a drunk and irrational person in the confines of an aircraft is frightening, not least on a long-haul flight, and poses a potential risk to safety, said Judge Nicholas Wood, as he sentenced Burns to six months in prison for being drunk on an aircraft and two months for assault, sentences to run concurrently. "You were drunk and obnoxious almost from the beginning to the end. You were abusive, contemptuous and confrontational and used appalling language, he said.
Burns, born in Northern Ireland and living in Hove in England, was also ordered to pay 300 pounds compensation to the person she assaulted, with the judge saying that "spitting straight into a crew member's face at close range is a particularly insulting and upsetting act". A member of the Air India cabin crew described her conduct as unlike anything he had seen during his 34-year aviation career.
The judge at Isleworth Crown Court said he was satisfied the offence was racially aggravated and the language Burns used would have been extremely upsetting for the airline staff.
Noting Simone Burns' work with refugees around the world, Judge Wood added: "You are a woman, not just of good character but a positive and impeccable character a righter of wrongs. What this has done, thanks to social media, (has meant) you have had death threats and been a hermit in your home. You are a person who has done good work throughout your life."
Burns' defence lawyer suggested that her actions were due to a "mixture of altitude, the consumption of drink and anxiety" at the fact that she was likely to miss the funeral of an uncle. Mark Kimsey told the court that his client was "totally ashamed of her behaviour". "This is not a lady who has a drink problem. This is not a woman who has a drug problem. This is totally out of character," he said.