On 17th October 2019, former university lecturer Philip Kingston attached his left hand to a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) carriage at Shadwell station, while Father Martin Newall, a Passionist Priest, and Reverend Sue Parfitt, a retired Anglican priest, climbed on to the roof of the train.
When giving evidence at the Inner London Crown Court in January 2021, Sue Parfitt described the action as ‘outrageous’. So why did these three Christians feel compelled to act in this way? Here are some of the words they used in court to describe why they felt it so important to face arrest, prosecution and possible imprisonment.
Phil Kingston told the jury his grandchildren and his Catholic faith influenced his decision to take part in the demonstration. He said: “I have four grandchildren and they are the greatest concern in my life, because my understanding of the temperature that the earth is heading towards is going to be mighty difficult for them and their generation. I have a very strong belief that this man Jesus shows me the way of life, which is giving all our life for others. I appreciate this principle that the order of my life is, as far as I can, to put others first.”
Father Martin Newell explained that his “deepest motivation” was his Christian faith; “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. We’ve tried everything else – that wasn’t working, and unfortunately disruption seems to be the best way to get people’s attention and the government’s attention.
Jurors heard he had printed out copies of a prayer, ‘Litany of the Earth, parts of which he had adapted from other prayers and parts he had written himself.
“It’s a long prayer”, he explained, “I wrote most of it myself and a part of it is obviously about concern for the environment and concern for our part in what we are doing to the earth – God’s Earth and asking God to forgive us for what we’ve done and ask God to change what we need to.”
‘Love your neighbour’
“Jesus taught us the most important commandment was to love God and love your neighbour. 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. All of us depend on the earth for our life, so if the earth is suffering, we suffer.”
He went on: “The symbolic power of that action, of people seeing that – why would someone do that, why would someone climb on top of a train, stop a train – people will think, well, it must be really serious for people to do this.”
During her testimony, Reverend Sue Parfitt frequently addressed the jury directly. At one point she said: “Sorry to be so blunt, but your children and grandchildren have no future unless the government take unpopular decisions. At nearly 80 I’m not going to see the worst of the impact, but I do this for your children and grandchildren. Sue then asked the question: “Why did God call an old woman like me to act in this way? As Christians we believe God chooses the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty. Central to my faith is obedience, and so far as I am able to discern, I am compelled to act in this way. In light of the urgency of the climate emergency we’ve got to sound the alarm until we burst!’
On 14th January the jury returned a unanimous verdict of Not Guilty. On hearing the news of their acquittal, Sue commented: “It’s wonderful that the jury saw the bigger picture, that the court has vindicated our action and we hope it in some small way inspires others to feel that there may be sacrifices to be made, perhaps particularly by people of faith.”