Elderly Activists Charged for Attempting to Damage Magna Carta

Two elderly women from Just Stop Oil were charged with criminal damage after attempting to smash the Magna Carta's protective case at the British Library. The activists, aged 82 and 85, used a hammer and chisel to draw attention to their demand for the UK government to end oil, gas, and coal extraction by 2030.

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Nitish Verma
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Elderly Activists Charged for Attempting to Damage Magna Carta

Elderly Activists Charged for Attempting to Damage Magna Carta

On May 10, two elderly women from the climate activist group Just Stop Oil were charged with criminal damage after attempting to smash the protective case housing the Magna Carta at the British Library in London. Rev. Sue Parfitt, 82, and Judith Bruce, 85, used a hammer and chisel to target the glass enclosure in an effort to draw attention to their demand that the UK government commit to ending oil, gas, and coal extraction by 2030.

Why this matters: This incident highlights the growing urgency and desperation felt by climate activists, who are increasingly resorting to drastic measures to bring attention to the issue. As the clock ticks on meeting global climate goals, such actions may become more frequent, leading to a greater impact on public discourse and potentially influencing policy decisions.

The activists held up a sign reading "The Government is breaking the law" and questioned, "Is the government above the law?" before gluing themselves to the display. Security staff at the British Library intervened, preventing further damage to the case. While the protective glass sustained minimal damage, the Magna Carta itself remained unharmed. The gallery housing the historic document is currently closed until further notice.

The Magna Carta, issued in June 1215, is a foundational document that established basic rights and the principle that no one, including the King and government, is above the law. It has served as an inspiration for several constitutions worldwide, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The British Library possesses two of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta.

Rev. Sue Parfitt, a Church of England vicar, stated, "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." Judith Bruce, a retired biology teacher, became a radical protester after realizing that non-disruptive marches were ineffectual in bringing about change. As a biologist, she expressed concern about the loss of biodiversity in the UK.

The incident highlights a growing trend of older adults, particularly those over 60, becoming involved in climate activism through groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. Research from Aston University found that in 2019, 23% of participants in Extinction Rebellion's capital-halting protests were aged above 56. Just Stop Oil, which emerged in 2022, appears to have a significant number of "grey protesters" alongside a younger demographic of under-25s.

Reverend Dr. Sue Parfitt and Judith Bruce have been released on bail and are scheduled to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on June 20. The incident at the British Library underscores the escalating urgency felt by climate activists, including those from older generations, who are resorting to more disruptive tactics to demand government action on climate change and environmental protection.

Key Takeaways

  • Two elderly women from Just Stop Oil were charged with criminal damage for attempting to smash the Magna Carta's protective case.
  • Their goal was to draw attention to their demand for the UK government to end oil, gas, and coal extraction by 2030.
  • The Magna Carta, a foundational document, remained unharmed, but the gallery is closed until further notice.
  • The incident highlights the growing urgency and desperation felt by climate activists, including older generations.
  • The two women, Rev. Sue Parfitt and Judith Bruce, are scheduled to appear in court on June 20.