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Retrial finds retired vicar had 'lawful excuse' for climate protest

by Donna Birrell

A court has ruled that a retired vicar had a ‘lawful excuse’ for a peaceful protest which obstructed a highway as part of climate change action last Summer.

80-year old Rev Sue Parfitt, was found guilty of wilful obstruction of the highway in July, after being arrested at a climate protest and was ordered to pay more than £1500.  This week she had a retrial of the case and was found not guilty at Bristol crown court.
The action took place outside Britain’s largest military site, the Ministry of Defence at Abbey Wood in Bristol in December 2020. Around 20 people blockaded three entrances to the complex, preventing dozens of MoD workers from entering. Rev Parfitt participated in the blockade by sitting in front of one entrance in a camp chair for four hours.
The court ruled that Rev Sue Parfitt had a ‘lawful excuse’ for her peaceful protest and that her use of the road was ‘reasonable’. 
David Rhodes, part of her defence team, argued that her protest was reasonable while the arrest and prosecution were an unreasonable interference with Sue’s right to protest. 
Following the trial, Mike Schwarz, also part of the defence team, said: “This successful appeal, overturning a district judge’s verdict in the magistrates’ court, underlines the point that the right to protest, particularly on public roads, must be taken seriously.  The ‘right to protest’ means nothing if it is not rigorously applied by prosecutors and courts, at all levels and at every stage of the criminal justice system.”
During her cross-examination Rev Parfitt argued that she feels called by God to draw attention to the government’s criminal inaction in view of the climate emergency. She said: “We are on the edge of an abyss. I have to put my body on the line.”
After the ruling Sue, a member of Christian Climate Action, 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. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last month, it is the failure of climate leadership that is criminal.”
At the time of her initial trial, Sue said: ‘When I sat in the road leading to the MoD on December 11th I did so to protest at the government’s decision to spend twice the amount on the armed forces and their equipment than on measures to slow down the catastrophic climate emergency we face. As a Christian, I am committed to bringing justice to those who suffer injustice in all its forms. That includes climate justice for those suffering the worst effects of climate change now.” 

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