‘Jesus wept’. So read the reverend Mark Coleman’s placard at the Just Stop Oil protest outside the Kingsbury Oil Terminal in Warwickshire on April 27. He was arrested with 10 others for breaking an injunction granted on April 14 to North Warwickshire Borough Council (NWBC) banning protest outside the terminal.
NWBC said the order was needed because environmental groups ’caused a serious risk to themselves and others during the first week of protest in Kingsbury’. It allowed the arrest of protestors ‘outside the terminal and at the junctions of the roads leading into the zone’ with a copy of the order displayed ‘prominently at the entrance to the terminal’.
Mark and the others were arrested for standing on a grass verge outside the terminal.
David Wright, leader of the council, congratulated himself on NWBC being the only council with such an injunction, saying ‘I believe we are the only area to now be covered by such an injunction… The Police now have much better powers to stop repeat and dangerous protestors.’.
A trip to the high court
We caught up with Mark Coleman after he and his fellow protestors appeared at the high court in Birmingham following their arrests. Mark stressed that this was nonetheless a civil law case rather than a criminal charge. Breaking an injunction is more like breaking a contract, he says. The injunction instigated by NWBC more or less made it illegal to stand on the grass with a placard.
‘I felt it was so absurd that the law could be used to stop people like us standing up to protect life. So I walked along the pavement, crossed the road, stood on the grass and raised my placard. The police knew many of us from a few weeks back. They arrested us and put us in the van. I got a £600 fine. ‘
Others have broken the injunction several times and been to prison. Mark points to the example of Michelle, a protestor who is still in prison (for 33 days), and a vicar from Macclesfield who spent 4-5 days on remand.
Mark is sanguine. He says ‘I’m lucky, a white man with a pension. It’s a privilege to step up’. He’s not a natural activist, he says, but there were ‘lots of discussions in my family about things, my father was a liberal councillor in the 60s, my mother a magistrate, so we had a tradition of thinking and public service which inspired me’.
He worked in the voluntary sector, for Age UK and also getting businesses to help in the community before seeking ordination in the Church of England, where he worked in Warrington, Liverpool and Rochdale.
His climate awakening started in 2008: ‘it hit me how horrendous this was going to be’. He says he read lots of books, did some academic research, got his parish to start car free Sundays, and set up a community growing scheme on church grounds.
But it wasn’t enough, he says: ’emissions were increasing and temperatures were rising’. He heard about Christian Climate Action and Extinction Rebellion (XR) and also saw Archbishop Rowan Williams’ support for XR and ‘I thought this is it, I must stop the destruction’.
He took part in XR actions in October 19 and was arrested. When he retired, he started a local group in Rochdale. He says ‘I’m inspired by the love and courage of others’.
His recent court appearance should have been his tenth in the high court following arrests during Insulate Britain events.
In March 2021 he wrote on the window of the office of Chris Clarkson, MP for Heywood and Middleton that he was fed up with government inaction on climate, asking him (in chalk paint) to ‘love justice and do mercy’.
The case was dropped, and this turbulent priest was thus free to to turn up at the Kingsbury oil terminal.
Mark got involved with Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain because ‘We are on track for horrendous high temperatures’. He sat with others on motorways ‘to draw attention to cold homes, winter deaths and fuel poverty’. With the cost of living crisis he sees things getting worse.
At the high court Mark Coleman was represented by a ‘barrister who kindly helped’. In civil law there is no defence normally, but he was allowed to make a statement by the judge, who did ask for this to be non-political.
Theology and science
Mark told us he said ‘I don’t think it is, milady’, He alluded to his most recent Sunday sermon about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and told the court ‘in our country, in the world we have leaders behaving like bad shepherds, leading us to disaster’, which he says is a theological point, although he also referred to the science in the latest IPCC reports and to former government science advisor Professor Sir David King’s highlighting of the need for action within 3-4 years.
Mark says protest is a public service. He says ‘I’m a retired vicar trying to protect us from disaster’. He says ‘protest is the power of ordinary people to resist the things that are killing us’.
He continues ‘I feel so much happier. I’m not taking this lightly. There’s a power in standing with others. Governments can change their minds. We’ve had all the reports, we know what needs to be done to stop the destruction. We grandpas and grandmas can, with other ordinary folk, show there is another way’.
Public service isn’t only giving a tin to the food bank. It’s ‘being in a community of people who love and care and have found a little courage to stand up to stop oil’.
Mark feels feels that people are being betrayed by a government that is allowing more oil extraction: ‘while stepping out of line is scary it is important people stand up’. He concludes ‘I have Parkinson’s. I’m often tired and I’d like to sit and read a book but this is important. This is life and now is the time ‘.
NB: since we wrote this article, Mark has told us that since he was fined “the Court has altered the injunction. It seems that now it may be permissible to stand and hold a placard”. The change was made before May 12 but Mr Coleman was still “found to have broken the injunction in force at that time and fined”.