Extinction Rebellion trio cleared after staging 77-minute rush-hour train protest

14 January 2022, 13:54 | Updated: 14 January 2022, 17:40

Rev Sue Parfitt and Father Martin Newell were cleared over the disruption
Rev Sue Parfitt and Father Martin Newell were cleared over the disruption. Picture: Alamy

By Stephen Rigley

Three Extinction Rebellion protesters were cleared of obstructing the railway after climbing on top of a Docklands Light Railway train in East London.

The jury's unanimous decision comes just nine days after four other protesters were controversially cleared for toppling a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.

And earlier today an Insulate Britain activist told LBC that they would keep protesting after spending two months in jail for being part of a gang of activists who glued their hands to the M25 last year.

Former university lecturer Philip Kingston, 85, Anglican priest Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79, and Father Martin Newell, 54, all climbed on top of the train during rush-hour.

The trio, who are members of Christian Climate Action within environmental group XR, caused chaos on October 17, 2019 at Shadwell station in East London.

Read more: 'Whatever it takes': Freed eco activist vows to carry on protests after leaving jail

Kingston, Parfitt and Newell were charged with obstructing an engine or carriage on the railway, but were cleared by a jury at Inner London Crown Court this morning.

Speaking after the verdict, XR said: "Time and time again, a jury, made up of ordinary citizens, will understand the stakes. Action is justified."

Kingston superglued his hand to the DLR train while Reverend Parfitt and Father Newell climbed on the roof and said prayers for the planet shortly before 7am.

The DLR train which was travelling from Lewisham to Bank was about 70 per cent full of passengers - and the court was told the protest caused 77 minutes of disruption.

Read more: Fuming LBC callers go head-to-head in blistering row over 'Colston Four' verdict

Around 15 trains were delayed or cancelled by the trio’s actions.

They trio, who denied the charge, claimed they were strongly motivated by their Christian faith, while Kingston said the futures of his four grandchildren also prompted him to take part.

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.

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 ten more Extinction Rebellion activists on the platform to ensure violence did not break out.

The verdict comes a week after four people were cleared of criminal damage over toppling the bronze statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and throwing it in the harbour on June 7, 2020.

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 they had no defence in law.

Kingston, from south Wales and now living in Patchway, south Gloucestershire, told the court he worked as a lecturer at Bristol University for 27 years, and he had been employed as a probation officer before this.

He said he hoped to appeal to the public and the Government about "climate breakdown” through the protest, adding that some passengers did 'engage' with his views on the day.

"I hope to achieve the attention of fellow citizens and also of the Government, who I believe are responding quite inadequately to the huge dangers we are facing in regard to the climate and I wanted to draw attention to that."

Kingston said the "safety of passengers was the primary consideration” of the group's planning ahead of the stunt, and he was as certain 'as humanly possible' that no-one would be put at risk.

When asked whether, if the safety of passengers had been in question, he would still have proceeded with the stunt, he said: "No, not at all."

He added that initially passengers reacted angrily, but after he spoke with those nearby, 'the anger subsided and they were beginning to engage'.

As to why he did it, he told the court:"I have four grandchildren and they are the greatest concern in my life because my understanding of the temperature that the earth is heading towards is going to be mighty difficult for them and their generation.

“I have a very strong belief that this man Jesus shows me the way of life, which is giving all our use for others... I appreciate this principle that the order of my life is to, as far as I can, to put others first.

"The poorest people in the world who have done the least to cause these high temperatures are the ones who are suffering the most from extremes of weather.

"They don't have the resources that we have (in the UK) to in some way cope reasonably with what is happening to us."

Prosecuting, Edmund Blackman said yesterday that reaching a guilty verdict may be something jurors do 'with a heavy heart' but argued that the protesters "went too far in what they did”.

He told the jury: “The target was the Dockland Light Railway. It wasn't, for instance, the headquarters of Shell or Barclays bank.

"They targeted a public transport system used by ordinary people and which runs on electricity."