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Priest spends time in prison over Extinction Rebellion protests

11 September 2020

Climate-change campaigner speaks of ‘dehumanising’ conditions in cell

Stephen Nunn

The Revd Stephen Nunn’s prisoner card

The Revd Stephen Nunn’s prisoner card

A FORMER prison chaplain has spoken about a nine-day prison sentence that prevented his taking part in the recent climate-change demonstrations organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR) (News, 4 September).

The Revd Stephen Nunn, who is 56, a former rector in Sussex, and senior chaplain at HM Prison Kingston, Portsmouth, was charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage before the protests and spent last week in HM Prison Hewell, in Worcestershire.

Mr Nunn, who is a grandfather of six, said that, despite being treated with courtesy and respect by staff and fellow prisoners, being imprisoned during a pandemic was “dehumanising”.

“Prison under Covid-19 restrictions is dehumanising, disheartening, and disgusting,” he said. “You relinquish all control, comfort, and contact with the outside world. I was banged up for 23 hours a day, with 25 minutes of exercise and 35 of standing around on the landing. There is a telly, a table, and a toilet in the cell, and two beds. My cellmate had spent more than two-thirds of his 36 years in some sort of custody. He was coming off heroin cold turkey. Despite his own very real problems, he was kind and considerate.”

Mr Nunn continued: “It was a little bit daunting as the cell door slammed shut. It was my first time inside without keys. But I got a lot of support from inmates very quickly, and, as I left, they came out on the landing and clapped and shook hands. They understood what we’re trying to do.”

Mr Nunn, who, in 2007, set up a charity with his wife to help children trapped in the sex trade in Kolkata, first became aware of climate change through his children. Last October, he spent two weeks as part of the XR protests outside Downing Street. He said that “inconveniencing and interrupting” people in power was vital to bringing about change.

Mark SharrattThe Revd Sue Parfitt, aged 77 (lying down on the right in the picture), was arrested on Wednesday after blocking the gates of Parliament before Prime Minister’s Question Time, as part of ten days of action by Extinction Rebellion. She said: “I do not want to be lying outside Parliament today, but if I can use such an action to raise the alarm and demand that the Government act faster to save the planet for future generations, I must do so”

He said: “Like many, I have written letters, emails, signed petitions, held banners, chanted chants, and listened to endless poems. But this has had a minor effect. Those in power have to act swiftly and effectively to prevent a global catastrophe.

“I don’t want to go to prison, lose my liberty, my job, my home and security. I don’t want to lie on my prison bed whilst someone uses a toilet a few inches from my head. But nor do I want my grandchildren to be one of the final generations, and nor do I want all my work in Kolkata being swept away by the Ganges, or millions in the global South to face a terrifying future of famine, war, and sickness. Climate change affects the poorest first.”

Mr Nunn was keen to see other Christians take up the issue. “Christians have always played a key role in influencing governments in matters of social justice, and that is what they should be doing now. It’s one of those issues where we can truly make a difference.

“It was great to see Rowan Williams on the front line of an Extinction Rebellion march the other day, along with many Christians of all denominations. If the Church put in ten per cent of the energy it has expended on issues surrounding sex, we might get something real done on climate change.

“The science is out there; the theology is out there; some of the solutions are out there. This is not a time for fence-sitting.”

The latest round of XR protests were set to conclude yesterday. On Wednesday, the Revd Sue Parfitt, who is 77, and other members of Christian Climate Action, a group affiliated with XR, glued themselves to at the Palace of Westminster in an attempt to disrupt Prime Minister’s Questions.

An XR spokesperson said: “We are blockading Prime Minister’s Questions today because MPs are not asking the key questions on how we are going to tackle the climate crisis. Last week, the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill was tabled by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and yet was postponed for debate until April. These people are here today to say that waiting seven months to address this is simply not good enough when we’re facing a climate emergency.”


Joe Ware is Senior Climate Journalist at Christian Aid.

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