United Kingdom

Church leaders' anger at priests who helped M25 climate change blockade

Church leaders have expressed their anger and frustration at priests who helped blockade the M25, saying they are “not helping” the cause of tackling climate change.

Two Anglican priests were among the dozens of Insulate Britain activists who were arrested after repeatedly stopping traffic across large sections of the motorway linking London and the South East with the rest of the country.

The food and haulage industries have warned that further blockades can only lead to more food shortages and higher prices at a time when the industry is already suffering disruption from driver shortages.

The Rev Tim Hewes, a 71-year-old part-time priest from Wantage, Oxfordshire, and the Rev Sue Parfitt, 79, a retired vicar from Bristol, were among protesters who glued themselves to sliproads around the M25 road in three separate protests last week, calling for more government action on insulating homes against heat loss.

Protesters (who are planning more blockades in the run up to the Cop26 international climate change conference) could face conspiracy charges amid concern that low-level offences will simply result in “slap on the wrist” sentences, The Telegraph revealed on Saturday.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has demanded more action from forces after videos emerged earlier in the week appearing to show officers facilitating the protests.

Insulate Britain defended its actions, stating: “Our protests have been condemned as ‘completely unacceptable’ by Priti Patel. What is unacceptable is putting the future of hard-working people at risk due to climate inaction.”

Rev Parfitt, who has previously committed contempt of court by gluing herself to court furniture after being arrested during Extinction Rebellion protests, was pictured, above, in her clerical collar, with protesters next to an overpass on Wednesday.

Rev Hewes, 71, who was photographed in August outside the offices of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK building after sewing his lips together in protest over what he called the “muting” of climate science, also took part.

Well-intentioned, but questionable, actions

Their actions – which led to long delays, with some motorists taking matters into their own hands in trying to move the protesters – have angered Anglican leaders, who say they are damaging the reputation of the environmental movement.

Church of England sources told The Telegraph: “We don’t think what Tim and Sue are doing is particularly helpful. There is an urgent need for real action to tackle climate change, but blocking roads and sewing your lips together is not the right way to go about it.

“It’s this sort of thing that alienates people and makes them think that tackling the climate crisis is not possible without extremist measures. We don't think the protests this week led to anything other than irritated drivers and could well have placed people in danger.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Oxford said: “The world faces extreme weather events, sea level rises and biodiversity loss. Our society has a tiny window to make rapid decisions and take action that will affect the life of the entire planet for centuries to come. 

"The actions of Rev Hewes and others this week, while arguably well-intentioned, frustrated many people and we're unclear how what they have done drives the urgent change required.”

Rev Hewes was also previously jailed for contempt of court after he glued himself to court furniture in March in protest at what he called the Court’s “complicity with the Government’s lack of action on the climate emergency”.

However, church sources said no action is likely to be taken against Rev Parfitt or Rev Hewes, as they are deemed to have been “acting in conscience” according to deeply held beliefs.

Condemning Insulate Britain

The Road Haulage Association, which represents major haulage firms responsible for transporting much of Britain’s food supplies and other goods, condemned Insulate Britain’s actions.

A spokesman said: “We are seeing prices already going up in the shops because of the shortage of drivers and we have all got to work together to get through this. Having groups deliberately cause disruption is not helping what is already a very difficult situation for businesses, for home owners and for everybody.”

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