Extinction Rebellion activists cleared of obstructing railway in 77-minute stunt

Three Extinction Rebellion activists have been acquitted of a 2019 stunt in which they disrupted a train in central London for 77 minutes.

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

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

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

What they said was an attempt to alert the public and government to the dangers of climate change and the financial institutions whose actions are damaging the planet, and targeted a train leaving a station from the Bank in the City of London’s financial district was removed.

About 15 trains were delayed or canceled, but none got stuck in tunnels.

This was partly because, according to the activists, they had planned the demonstration to ensure there was no threat to public safety, taking measures including targeting an above-ground station and 10 other Extinction Rebellion activists on the platform to ensure that violence did not break out.

The ruling comes after four people were cleared of criminal damages for toppling the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and throwing it in the harbour.

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

And in April last year, six Extinction Rebellion protesters were acquitted of causing criminal damage to Shell’s London headquarters, despite the judge telling the jury they had no legal defense.

Angry passengers affected by the disruption at Shadwell train station in east London on October 17, 2019 asked Rev. Sue Parfitt, now 79, Father Martin Newell, 54, and Philip Kingston, 85, to get off the Docklands Light train Railway (DLR) to get off, but the Extinction Rebellion (ER) protesters refused until police arrived.

A special team of officers had to carefully remove Kingston from the train, Inner London Crown Court heard.

Parfitt, from Bristol, and Newell, from Birmingham, used a ladder to climb onto the train roof, while Kingston, from Patchway, South Gloucestershire, superglued himself to the side of the carriage.

Prosecutor Edmund Blackman told the jury, “The prosecution’s charge against these defendants is that they went too far in their protest.

“Of course, in a democratic society, people have this right. It is a precious right, but that right must be weighed against the rights of other people.

“In this case, it’s about where you draw that line. The charge is that they went too far.”

The train, which left Lewisham for Bank just before 7am, was about 70% full.

The protest caused 77 minutes of disruption, 15 DLR trains were delayed or canceled, but no train got stuck in tunnels, the court heard.

The protesters, who are members of Christian Climate Action, a branch of ER, are accused of jamming an engine or carriage on the railway.

Parfitt and Newell had said prayers for about 45 minutes while on the roof. They tried to speak to the passengers and then continued their protest in silence, the court heard.

During her police interview, Parfitt said the hope is to draw attention “dramatically” to the climate crisis so the government can take action on the issue.

She told the officer, “Whatever it takes to do it, we have to do it. We apologized to people and understood they were late for work, but tried to say, “This is for your kids.” Some people listened to us I think.”

She accepted that the financial cost of stopping a train is likely “huge” and told the officer, “We’re sorry, but it has nothing to do with the cost of systems failing.”

She added: “We’re talking about proportionality here. Whatever the price of today’s action, it hardly matters compared to what we are talking about and trying to get the nation talking.”

Parfitt said she attended the protest voluntarily as it was “in accordance with my conscience,” but added that others needed to tell her exactly what to do.

During her police interview, she said of the July 7 terrorist attacks on London’s transport network: “It’s been thought through very carefully. We don’t stop in tunnels because that would cause panic.”

On one occasion, Newell opened a piece of paper on the train roof, but a member of the public – “undoubtedly a disgruntled customer” – climbed the ladder and snatched it from his hand, “perhaps as an indication of how upset people were,” Mr Blackman said .

The jury heard a passenger plead: “We have to go to work, the children are on the train and we have to go to school”.

In response, Newell said he was “sorry,” adding, “But that’s what we have to resort to,” as he turned down calls by members of the public to come down, the court heard.

Mr Blackman said the protesters arrived at the station around 6.45am and intended to disrupt the rush hour through “concerted action”.

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