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Extinction Rebellion activists Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt stand outside Inner London Crown Court on January 10, 2022.

Extinction Rebellion activists Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt stand outside Inner London Crown Court on January 10, 2022. (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

'Juries Get It': Climate Activists Acquitted After Train Protest

"There is mounting evidence from the courts and in particular from juries that the public is taking the climate crisis... far more seriously than government and business."

Kenny Stancil

Jurors on Friday unanimously acquitted three Extinction Rebellion activists who were on trial for blocking a train in London to demand an adequate response to the life-threatening climate emergency.

"The real crime lies with a government failing to do what's necessary to safeguard the future of the human race."

Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79; Father Martin Newell, 54; and former university lecturer Phil Kingston, 85, were all found not guilty of violating the Malicious Damages Act.

None of the three denied stopping a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train at Shadwell Station just before 7:00 a.m. on October 17, 2019. Kingston super-glued his hand to the side of the train while Parfitt and Newell climbed on top, resulting in a 77-minute disruption during morning rush hour.

But the three members of Christian Climate Action, an arm of Extinction Rebellion, argued that they were lawfully exercising their right to peaceful protest under the Human Rights Act, characterizing their temporary obstruction of the train as a proportionate response to the existential threat facing Earth's inhabitants. The jury agreed with their defense.

"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," said defense attorney Mike Schwarz. "This verdict is part of this escalating pattern."

According to Extinction Rebellion:

During the trial at the Inner London Crown Court, the jury was presented with a set of facts, agreed on by both the defense and the prosecution, about the escalating climate crisis.

These agreed facts included that: "Climate change is a clear and imminent threat to human civilization. It has become increasingly widely recognized that immediate substantial action needs to be taken in order to stabilize the climate at a temperature in which we can avoid massive and widespread loss of life."

The jury also heard that the action, to halt a train traveling at speed to Bank Station, the heart of London's financial district, was designed to symbolize how business-as-usual must be stopped from driving human civilization to destruction—activating the train's emergency alarm was analogous to sounding the alarm on the climate crisis.

Zoë Blackler of Extinction Rebellion said in a statement that "when a jury hears the truth about the escalating climate crisis, with the depth and seriousness they won't get from the government or the media, they understand the urgent need to act."

"The real criminals here aren't three committed Christians who are risking their liberty to sound the alarm on a threat of existential proportions," Blackler added. "The real crime lies with a government failing to do what's necessary to safeguard the future of the human race."

ITV News reported that "some 15 trains were delayed or canceled but none were stuck in tunnels." The news outlet noted that "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."

The jury heard from prosecutors that "a passenger pleaded, 'We have got to go to work, the kids are on the train and we have got to go to school,'" the BBC reported. "In response, Mr. Newell said he was 'sorry,' adding: 'But this is what we have to resort to,' as he refused calls from members of the public to come down."

"It's wonderful that the jury saw the bigger picture."

On the platform, meanwhile, Kingston reportedly told passengers that he was taking action "for the future of my grandchildren and for the future of yours."

Speaking outside Inner London Crown Court on Friday, Parfitt said that "it's wonderful that the jury saw the bigger picture."

Extinction Rebellion pointed out that the trial of the so-called "Shadwell Three" followed "the acquittal by a jury in December of six XR members, the DLR 'Canaries,' who were charged with the same offense during an action at Canary Wharf station in April 2019."

"In that case, as in this one, the jury was directed by the judge to decide whether a conviction was 'necessary in a democratic society' or whether it would be a disproportionate interference in the defendants' human rights," the group said. "The 'Canaries' jury returned a unanimous 'not guilty' verdict in less than an hour."

According to ITV News, the Shadwell Three's acquittal "comes on the same day Extinction Rebellion protester James Brown had his sentence cut from 12 months to four after super-gluing himself to the roof of a plane at London City Airport and six activists who blocked motorways as part a series of protests by the Extinction Rebellion offshoot Insulate Britain were released from prison."


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