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Climate catastrophe will destroy our rights, says priest after Magna Carta attack

14 May 2024

Just Stop Oil

The Revd Sue Parfitt (right) and Judith Bruce protest in the British Library, next to the cracked glass case holding the Magna Carta (seen on left)

The Revd Sue Parfitt (right) and Judith Bruce protest in the British Library, next to the cracked glass case holding the Magna Carta (seen on left)

A RETIRED priest, the Revd Sue Parfitt, is one of two women to have been charged with criminal damage after the glass protecting the Magna Carta in the British Library was targeted during a climate-change protest on Friday.

The Metropolitan Police reported that two individuals hit with a hammer and chisel the protective enclosure around the historic document. Ms Parfitt, who is 82, from Bristol, and Judith Bruce, 85, from Swansea, were arrested, and later released on bail. They are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 20 June.

A video of the protest was released by the climate campaign group Just Stop Oil, which reported that the pair had glued themselves to the enclosure holding a sign which read “The Government is breaking the law.”

The previous week, the High Court had ruled that the Government must redraft its climate-change policy because it was not robust enough to meet the targeted cut in greenhouse-gas emissions. The legal challenge was brought by environmental groups.

Ms Parfitt said: “The Magna Carta is rightly revered, being of great importance to our history, to our freedoms, and to our laws. But there will be no freedom, no lawfulness, no rights, if we allow climate breakdown to become the catastrophe that is now threatened.

“We must get things in proportion. The abundance of life on earth, the climate stability that allows civilisation to continue, is what must be revered and protected above all else, even above our most precious artefacts.”

The British Library said in a statement that its security team had “intervened to prevent further damage to the case, which was minimal”, and that “the Magna Carta itself remains undamaged.”

Ms Parfitt has taken part in several previous climate-motivated protests in recent years, including those organised by Just Stop Oil (News, 9 June 2023). The group are reported to be among the “extreme” organisations named in a forthcoming report by Lord Walney, which, he recommends, should be reprimanded in a similar way to terrorist groups, because of their routine use of criminal acts to further their cause.

The report, commissioned by the Government, was due to be delivered to Downing Street on Monday.

In a draft copy seen by the BBC, Lord Walney said: “Militant groups like Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil are using criminal tactics to create mayhem and hold the public and workers to ransom without fear of consequence. Banning terror groups has made it harder for their activists to plan crimes — that approach should be extended to extreme protest groups, too.”

A year ago, the Public Order Bill became an Act of Parliament, allowing police to detain anyone merely on suspicion of planning an action. During its passage through Parliament, faith leaders argued that the Bill, which was conceived in the wake of disruptive protests by climate campaigners, would criminalise ordinary citizens who engaged in peaceful protests, including prayer vigils, public acts of worship, and community events (News, 27 January 2023; Comment, 24 February 2023).

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