Extinction Rebellion activists ‘vindicated’ by jury over rush-hour train protest

Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt spoke with the PA news agency outside court after they were acquitted alongside Philip Kingston.

Laura Parnaby
Friday 14 January 2022 13:57
Extinction Rebellion activists Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79, outside Inner London Crown Court (Victoria Jones/PA)
Extinction Rebellion activists Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79, outside Inner London Crown Court (Victoria Jones/PA)

Extinction Rebellion activists who were cleared over a 2019 stunt which saw them disrupt rush-hour trains in central London said they feel “vindicated” by the jury’s decision – and hope it will inspire others to take similar action.

Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79, Father Martin Newell, 54, and former university lecturer Philip Kingston, 85, were unanimously acquitted at Inner London Crown Court of obstructing the railway following their protest at Shadwell Station on October 17 2019.

Mr Kingston superglued his hand to a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train, while Rev Parfitt and Father Newell climbed on the roof and said prayers for the planet, shortly before 7am.

Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt said they hope the jury’s decision will inspire others to act over the climate emergency (Victoria Jones/PA)

Speaking outside the court on Friday, Reverend Parfitt told the PA news agency she felt the verdict showed the protest had been “the right thing to do”.

She said: “It’s wonderful that the jury saw the bigger picture, that the court has vindicated our action, and we hope it in some small way inspires others to feel that there may be sacrifices to be made, perhaps particularly by people of faith.

“We have to do whatever it takes to try our best to enable the people on this earth to change direction radically so that we live differently and we live in a better way.

“We are in an extreme and dire emergency in terms of our civilisation and our human and non-human species on the planet, and we have to have action from the governments of the world.”

Father Newell said he is prepared for further action and would risk going to prison in the future.

He told PA: “I’m not sure that disrupting public transport is the right thing to do at this point, but in terms of would I risk going to prison? Absolutely.”

Mr Kingston, the third defendant acquitted on Friday, appeared in court via video link.

Mike Schwarz, solicitor at the law firm Hodge Jones and Allen, which represented the defendants, said: “There is mounting evidence from the courts – and in particular from juries – that the public is taking the climate crisis and the increasingly urgent need to focus on it far more seriously than government and business. This verdict is part of this escalating pattern.”

The trio said they were strongly motivated by their Christian faith, while Mr Kingston said the futures of his four grandchildren also prompted him to take part in the protest.

In what they said was an attempt to appeal to the public and the Government about the dangers of climate change and the financial institutions whose actions damage the planet, they targeted a train one stop away from Bank in the City of London’s financial district.

Extinction Rebellion protester Phil Kingston who has glued himself to a DLR train at Shadwell in east London (Max Kara/Twitter/PA)

Some 15 trains were delayed or cancelled but none were stuck in tunnels.

This was partly because, according to the activists, they had planned the demonstration to ensure there was no risk to public safety by taking certain measures, including targeting a station above ground and having 10 more Extinction Rebellion activists on the platform to ensure violence did not erupt.

Rev Parfitt had previously vowed to continue protesting after being found guilty by a district judge at City of London Magistrates’ Court in February 2020 of refusing to obey a police banning order preventing protesters from demonstrating at Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge in London in April 2019.

Friday’s verdict comes nine days after four people were cleared of criminal damage over the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, which was then thrown into the harbour, in Bristol.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century figure was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in the city on June 7 2020, with those responsible acquitted on January 5 following an 11-day trial at Bristol Crown Court.

Last year saw a string of convictions overturned at the Old Bailey where a judge urged the Crown Prosecution Service to review its response to protesters’ appeals against convictions for obstructing a highway in light of a Supreme Court ruling in June.

Judge Mark Dennis QC said in August there was a “fundamental problem”, adding the Crown had not properly “grasped” the ruling or the “basic human rights point that has been there for a very long time”.

The Supreme Court had overturned the convictions of four protesters – Christopher Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Joanna Frew and Nora Ziegler – who were charged with obstruction of the highway after they locked themselves together outside an arms fair in 2017.

Former Paralympic athlete James Brown, 56, who was given a 12-month jail term after supergluing himself to the roof of a British Airways plane at London City Airport in a bid to draw attention to the climate crisis, had his sentence cut to four months by appeal judges (Extinction Rebellion/PA)

In their judgment, Lord Hamblen and Lord Stephens said: “There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly.”

And in April last year, six Extinction Rebellion protesters were cleared of causing criminal damage to Shell’s London headquarters, despite the judge telling jurors at Southwark Crown Court they had no defence in law.

Earlier on Friday, six activists who blocked motorways as part a series of protests by the Extinction Rebellion offshoot Insulate Britain were released from prison.

And former Paralympic athlete James Brown who was given a 12-month jail term after supergluing himself to the roof of a British Airways plane at London City Airport in a bid to draw attention to the climate crisis, had his sentence cut to four months by appeal judges.

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