Bristol vicar escapes conviction for Extinction Rebellion protest outside MOD

The decision to prosecute the former vicar has been overturned in court
The decision to prosecute the former vicar has been overturned in court. Credit: BPM Media

A retired Bristol vicar has escaped conviction for blocking an entrance to the MOD.

The decision to prosecute Rev Sue Parfitt was changed on Thursday 24 March after a judge found she was exercising her rights for freedom of expression.

The 80-year-old tied herself to a blockade outside the MOD in Filton in December 2020 for more than four hours before being arrested.

Rev Parfitt had recently been cleared over a 2019 stunt which saw them cause 77 minutes of disruption to a central London train.

Recorder Robin Sellers said Rev Parfitt's obstruction of the entrance to the Abbeywood site was a "reasonable use of the highway."

Rev Parfitt joined a blockade outside the MOD building in Filton in December 2020 Credit: BPM Media

He said the prosecution had "not satisfied" him and appealed the decision quoting Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

It prompted a cheer from around ten climate activists who came to support the retired vicar.

Rev Parfitt, a former couples therapist, gave evidence to the judge detailing her long-running involvement in climate protesting.

She was ordered to pay £1,500 last June after a judge at Bristol Magistrates Court found her guilty of obstruction.

She told the court she took 'outrageous action to highlight the outrageous inaction of the government' in addressing the climate crisis when she refused to move from the site and got arrested.

Quoting David King, head of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Rev Parfitt warned: "[We are] between three and four years away from passing irreversible tipping points... I don't have children, but those born now will have no future unless we can turn this crisis around."

Rev Parfitt apologised that the protest in December 2020 had caused "some disruption" but argued that MOD workers could have used the car park for Abbeywood Retail Park and walked to their workplace from there.

"I apologise to [MOD workers]," she said. "I don't want to disrupt their day however it's trying to get across to everybody the gravity of the situation we're facing."

She said Extinction Rebellion had chosen to protest outside the MOD on that day because it was the night before the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

It was also just after the Government had announced a £24 billion funding boost for the Ministry of Defence - twice that it was allocating to be spent tackling the climate crisis.

The 80-year-old former couples therapist said she took 'outrageous action' to raise awareness of climate change Credit: BPM Media

Ed Counsell, prosecuting, said: "There is very little in this case which is factually in dispute on either side," before reading statements from police officers who made arrests at the scene.

Recorder Sellers said: "In this case, limited to its own facts, we find that Rev Parfitt was exercising her Article 10 right of freedom of expression and this must be balanced against the level of disruption that is established on the evidence."

Speaking after the appeal decision was made, Rev Parfitt said: ‘"I feel very pleased about today as I think my guilty verdict in June was not right.

"Those of us who are resisting climate meltdown are not the criminals."

She says she plans to continue her activism with Just Stop Oil, a 'coalition of groups' working together to demand the government stop the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal in the UK.