Extinction Rebellion priest who stopped train in climate protest 'motivated by faith', court hears

Father Martin Newell said his deepest motivation was his Christian faith Credit: PA

A Catholic priest who stopped a train as part of climate protest with two other Christian environmentalists was motivated by his faith, a court has heard.

Father Martin Newell, 54, was joined by Rev Sue Parfitt, 79, and Philip Kingston, 85, in halting a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train at Shadwell station, east London, as part of an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest during rush hour on October 17 2019.

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

Giving evidence at Inner London Crown Court on Wednesday, Newell told a jury: "There’s a climate emergency which is an existential threat to the human race and… this was the best way I could think of at that time to draw attention to it and get the Government to take the urgent action that’s needed."

He added his "deepest motivation" was his Christian faith.

Newell said: "Jesus taught us the most important commandment was to love God and love your neighbour, and Pope Francis said the Earth is our neighbour, and I would agree with that and he said the Earth is being abused and we have to stop it.”

Priest Martin Newell and Reverend Sue Parfitt are also facing the charges. Credit: PA

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 from Bristol, 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."

The train, which was travelling from Lewisham to Bank shortly before 7am, was about 70% full of passengers.

The protest caused 77 minutes of disruption with 15 DLR trains delayed or cancelled, but no trains were stuck in tunnels, Inner London Crown court heard.

Newell told the court the protest was the result of months of planning and meetings were held in an attempt to make sure it was safe.

The disruption came a day after an XR representative had met the British Transport Police (BTP) to say a protest was on the cards within 24 hours.

He said: "I was aware there had been meetings with the police and some train union representatives that represent London Underground staff to make sure it was done safely."

He added activists had decided not to target stations that were underground or were close to parts of the line which were underground, to prevent passengers being stuck in tunnels and "panicking".

The demonstrators also chose the time of day, the part of the train they would climb on or glue themselves to, and the station layout to mitigate risk, he told the court.

Earlier in the trial, prosecutor Edmund Blackman told the jury the trio "went too far" in their protest.

The court heard that many passengers reacted angrily to the protest, with some telling the environmentalists: "This is a f****** electric train, you should be supporting this," and: "Can you let us go? We are begging you."

The protesters, who are members of Christian Climate Action, an arm of XR, are charged with obstructing an engine or carriage on the railway.

They have pleaded not guilty.