XR protesters went 'too far' when they stopped London DLR train, court told

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

An elderly Anglican priest and two other Christian environmentalists “went too far” when they stopped a commuter train during a climate change protest, a court has heard.

Three Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters - Reverend Sue Parfitt, Father Martin Newell and Philip Kingston - are on trial charged with obstructing an engine or carriage on the railway.

They have pleaded not guilty and are on trial at Inner London Crown Court.

The jury heard 79-year-old Parfitt, from Bristol, and 54-year-old Newell, from Birmingham, used a ladder to climb on top of the train's roof while 85-year-old Kingston, from Patchway in South Gloucestershire, superglued himself to the carriage.

Angry passengers who were caught up in the disruption - which happened at east London’s Shadwell Station in October 17, 2019 - begged the trio to move from the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train, but the court heard they refused.

A specialist team of officers had to carefully remove Kingston from the train.

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.

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

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

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

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

The protesters are members of Christian Climate Action, an arm of XR.

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.”

She added: “We are talking of proportionality here. Whatever the cost of today’s action – it hardly figures really compared with what we’re talking about and trying to get the nation to talk about.”

Parfitt said she freely took part in the protest as it was “in accordance” with her conscience”.

Reverend Sue Parfitt is on trial over stopping a train at Shadwell station in October 2019 Credit: PA

During her police interview, in a reference to the July 7 terror attacks on the London transport network, she said: “It is very carefully thought out. We do not stop in tunnels because that would cause panic.”

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 “in an indication perhaps of how angered people were,” Mr Blackman said.

The jury heard a passenger pleaded “we have got to go to work, the kids are on the train and we have got to go to school”.

In response, Newell said he was “sorry” and added: “But this is what we have to resort to”, as he refused calls from members of the public to come down, the court heard.

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, he added.

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

BTP’s Superintendent Richard Twyford said any such protests could lead to safety risks such as congestion and crush hazards, and could force people to be evacuated.

He also said it could lead to arrests and prosecutions. The XR representative said he would pass the warning on.

Father Martin Newell climbed on top of the train's roof and said prayers for the planet.

The jury heard some passengers told the environmentalists: “This is a f***ing electric train, you should be supporting this,” and: “Can you let us go? We are begging you.”

The court heard another person told them: “You are not even speaking – what’s your protests?”

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

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow (January 12).