An 80-year-old vicar has been found not guilty of wilful obstruction of the highway during a climate protest. 

Despite the not guilty verdict handed down by Bristol Crown Court, Rev Sue Parfitt was ordered to pay £1,500. 

Rev Parfitt, a member of Christian Climate Action, was arrested in December 2020 while taking part in a climate protest outside the Ministry of Defence in Abbey Wood, Bristol.

A group of around 20 protesters blocked entrances to the complex, preventing access for MoD workers. 

The protest marked the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change and was organised after the government announced a £24bn funding boost for the MoD, twice the sum commited to climate change. 

During her cross examination, Rev Parfitt said: “We are on the edge of an abyss. I have to put my body on the line.”

Rev Parfitt was previously found guilty but the court has now overturned this judgment after finding that she had a “lawful excuse” for her peaceful protest and that her use of the road was “reasonable”.

Mike Schwarz, a member of her defence team, welcomed the verdict.

“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,” he said.

“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’.” 

After the ruling, Rev Parfitt 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.”

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