XR trio ‘went too far’ by stopping rush hour DLR train, court told

Extinction Rebellion activists Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79, outside Inner London Crown Court

Extinction Rebellion activists Father Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt are on trial over stopping a train at Shadwell station in October 2019 - Credit: PA

An Anglican priest and two other Christian environmentalists “went too far” in their climate change protest by stopping a busy train during rush hour, a court has heard.

Angry passengers caught up in the disruption at Shadwell station on October 17 2019 begged Reverend Sue Parfitt, now aged 79, Father Martin Newell, 54, and Philip Kingston, 85, to move from the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train.

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

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters refused to move until police arrived, prompting a specialist team of officers to carefully remove Kingston from the train.

Some frustrated passengers reportedly told them: “This is a f***ing electric train, you should be supporting this.”

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

“Of course, living in a democratic society, people have that right. It is a precious right but that right has to be balanced against the right of other people.

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“This case is about where you draw that line. The prosecution case is that they went too far.”

Fifteen DLR services were delayed or cancelled because of the protest, which caused 77 minutes of disruption.

The train, which was travelling from Lewisham to Bank just before 7am, was about 70 per cent full of passengers.

All three protestors - members of Christian Climate Action, an arm of XR - are charged with obstructing an engine or carriage on the railway.

They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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

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

She told the officer: “Whatever it takes to do that, we have to do it. We were apologetic to people and understanding that they were being late to work but trying to say ‘this is for your children’. Some people were listening to us, I think.”

Accepting that the financial costs of stopping a train are probably “enormous”, she told the officer: “We are sorry about that but it is nothing to what the cost is going to be when systems break down.”

At one point Newell opened a piece of paper while on the train roof, but a member of the public – “an annoyed customer, no doubt” – climbed up the ladder and snatched it out of his hand.

Prosecutor Mr Blackman described this act as an "indication perhaps of how angered people were".

The jury heard 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”.

Newell apologised but refused to come down, arguing that "this is what we have to resort to”.

Mr Blackman said the protesters had arrived at the station at about 6.45am and - “acting in concert” - had intended to cause rush-hour disruption.

He added: “The prosecution’s case is that the defendants went beyond what is permitted or allowable in society in their protest.”

These protesters “deliberately acted unlawfully” at a busy time of time of day with a demonstration aimed at “attracting attention” to the climate change crisis.

The jury heard that some passengers asked the environmentalists: “Can you let us go? We are begging you.”

A different commuter apparently asked: “How did you get to the station, did you walk here? Obviously you got here by a train or bus.”

The trial continues.