On Wednesday 15th December, Revd Sue Parfitt, a 79-year-old Anglican priest, was given a two month prison sentence suspended for two years after being convicted of contempt of court for breaking the government’s M25 injunction. She was also ordered to pay £5000 in court costs. Sue took action on the M25 as part of Insulate Britain. She read out the following statement in court.
How could I possibly NOT do all that I can to shout from the housetops, to scream from the highways, with every fibre of my being, that our world is heading for extinction because of the greed, blindness, corruption and utter neglect of our Government? I follow in the footsteps of the radical, non-violent, prophetic Jesus, who called out the evil oppressors of His time, who were intent on safeguarding their own interests to the detriment of the poor. That is what is happening now. I call out this injustice.
Right now, in this court, I am faced with Prosecution lawyers earning around £600 an hour for their work in prosecuting me, when the minimum wage in this country is less than £10 an hour and where thousands therefore are living in fuel poverty. I call out this injustice.
When I was ordained a priest I promised that I would always serve the interests of the poor. And, so like Jesus my leader, I am calling for justice for the poor – for those in this country who will die of cold this winter, as well as for those many millions who are now and will in the future die of climate change-related events. I call out this injustice.
Insulate Britain started its campaign during the run-up to the Cop 26 but we little realised how great a disaster that conference was going to be – how great a disappointment to the poorest nations of the world; how enormous a sellout to the rich and powerful fossil fuel industry. Thank goodness we did what we did – we can only feel thankful that we took the opportunity to tell the truth and to act as though we believed it by sitting on the motorways, interrupting business as usual, if only for a very short time and saying we must focus all our attention on reducing carbon emissions, not on building new motorways, opening new coal mines, prospecting for more oil fields or engaging in other distractions from the only urgent task that has to be done – that is – cutting carbon emissions now.
We all now know, as never before, that the promises, pledges and plans made at COP in Glasgow cannot do other than lead to the world heating up by 2.4°C by the end of this century. No one can live at that temperature and that is the AVERAGE temperature – because 70% of the earth’s surface will be much cooler than that, because it is water. So, the rest – all of the land mass – will be much hotter than that, long before the century comes to an end. The Government’s own Climate Change Committee announced on 2nd Dec – just 12 days ago – that if the Government sticks with its current policies, then it is helping to ensure that there will be a warming of the planet of 2.4°C by the end of the century. The Government is being criminally negligent and it is my duty to say so, whatever the cost to me of doing so.
I do not have children and therefore do not have grandchildren. But you probably do. They do not have a future of any kind unless we can jolt the complacent, corrupt and paralysed governments of the world into grasping that all fossil fuel extraction has to end NOW and that the burning of the fossil fuels that are still available must be reduced to the minimum – IMMEDIATELY. Wasn’t it worth me sitting on the motorways to flag up that message and to interrupt other people’s lives for an hour or so in order to try to protect your children??
It is the greatest honour that I find myself standing before you in Court today, following in the footsteps of many hundreds of others who have been called to stand up against the forces of evil, corruption and inaction – called to stand up for justice.
It is of no consequence to me what you decide to do with me today. If you send me to prison, I shall use the time profitably to continue in whatever way I can, to sound the alarm about the emergency facing humanity. If you leave me at liberty I shall continue to protest in whatever way most dramatically draws attention to the appalling plight we are in, whether that involves breaking the law or not. Your decision about me and my fellow defendants is of no consequence at all, but your decision is of consequence for the future of the human race and of most other species.
We are already immersed in the sixth extinction event that the earth has seen during its 4.5 billion years history. I do not think that the court system in this country is equipped to deal with this sixth extinction event and you have been given the enormous opportunity to say so. You need to declare that the outrageous actions we have taken on the nation’s highways are the only sensible, rational actions that could possibly be taken in the face of the outrageous inaction of our own and other people’s governments. It is not I who is guilty, it is the Government. By failing to protect its citizens, the Government has broken its contract with them. Such dereliction of duty must be called out by us – as individuals and by you as representatives of the court – otherwise, by not doing so, you and the court system become complicit in this dereliction of duty that is leading us all to catastrophe.
I have no power to change the disastrous course that the Government is taking, other than that of continuing to exercise acts of civil disobedience in the face of the impending climate catastrophe, which I shall indeed continue to do if you leave me at liberty. But you have the power to endorse that decision by finding me not guilty and, in so doing, sounding a powerful wake up call to the Government and to the whole of society as to the dire emergency that we are in. You have the power not to continue to be complicit with the Government’s crime.
As for myself, please be assured that I shall continue in this path of civil disobedience in order to be obedient to the God whom I serve and who is calling me to do all in my power to protect His creation. And since I am also complicit in the destruction of God’s beautiful work of art, by my selfishness, my overconsumption and my neglect, I expect and hope that if, in the end you believe you must find me guilty, that you will impose the maximum prison sentence upon me which I shall receive gladly, in reparation for my own part in the unfolding tragedy of our time. It will, too, be the greatest privilege to follow in the path of the many thousands of other prisoners of conscience who have gone before me.
Revd Dr Sue Parfitt
December 14th 2021
The Feast of St John of the Cross
Sue was in court alongside eight other protestors, including Ruth Jarman, 58, and Dr Ben Buse, 36, both Anglicans. Ruth and Sue were given two month prison sentences suspended for two years. Ben is already serving a four-month sentence on an earlier charge of contempt of court and was ordered to serve a further 30 days consecutively. He is still eligible for early half time release so will likely serve two and a half months in total.