Three unanimously acquitted by jury at Inner London Crown Court
Three Extinction Rebellion activists have been cleared over a 2019 stunt that saw them cause 77 minutes of disruption to a central London train.
Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79, Father Martin Newell, 54, and former university lecturer Philip Kingston, 85, were unanimously acquitted by a jury at Inner London Crown Court of obstructing the railway following their protest at Shadwell Station on 17 October 2019.
Mr Kingston super-glued 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.
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 which was one stop away from Bank, in the City of London’s financial district.
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 measures including targeting a station above ground and having 10 more Extinction Rebellion activists on the platform to ensure violence did not break out.
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.
Friday’s verdict comes after four people were cleared of criminal damage over 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 pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in the city on 7 June 2020, and those responsible were acquitted on 5 January 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 “grasped” the effect of 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.
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 directing jurors at Southwark Crown Court that they had no defence in law.
Earlier on Friday, six activists who blocked motorways as part of 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.