I fought the law... and the law lost: disabled man arrested for blocking parliament wins case

Neil Goodwin was charged over his protest outside parliament in 2023. However, a judge saw it for nonsense - and here, Neil tells all.

[Click to listen to the article, and support the Canary]

Last week the Canary ran my story A disabled man is being PROSECUTED for blocking parliament with his MOBILITY SCOOTER just before my trial at Westminster Magistrate’s Court. Here’s the full story.

The climate crisis: very real, and very now

On July 19 2023, exactly a year on from the hottest day on record, and the devastating Wennington wild fire in East London which completely destroyed four houses, I had travelled up to parliament to raise the alarm about the effects a climate catastrophe will have on the disabled community and vulnerable groups, the old, and the frail.

I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and the hottest day in 2022 really drained what little energy I usually have. I felt like the plants in my garden, completely wilted, my leaves turning brown. It was the first time that I’d had to be pushed into my garden in a wheelchair. We rescued an exhausted robin, unable to even fly up to the bird bath, cooling off in a tub of rancid water. It was truly horrifying.

In early July 2023, I attended a talk at the Southbank Centre with Greta Thunberg and was shocked to learn that the government was preparing to sign new, and very significant, oil and gas licenses.

I learnt that the Rosebank project, the UK’s biggest untapped oilfield 80 miles off the Shetland coast in the North Atlantic, would have the potential if it were burned to produce as much carbon dioxide as running 56 coal-fired power stations for a year.

So, at a time when the UN Chief António Guterres started using the term ‘Global Boiling’, to describe the acceleration of terrifying climate impacts, Rishi Sunak was preparing to effectively tear up our commitment to Net Zero and the Paris Agreement and block our only escape route from global catastrophe.

Warnings from the 1990s

I am a documentary film maker.

In the late 90’s, when ‘Global Warming’ was very much considered to be junk science, I made a film called ‘Turned out Nice Again – Britain under climate change’, which set out to show what life would be like in the-near-future, about 2060, if we failed to curb our use of fossil fuels. Stuff I thought I’d never have a front row seat to witness:

Turned Out Nice Again - Britain under Climate Change

It was during that time that I learnt that CO2 emissions take a while to affect the climate. Estimates range from between 10 to 30 years. So, the impacts we are experiencing today relate to past emissions, say the invasion of Iraq, and present emissions will affect the atmosphere roughly 10 to 30 years from now.

So, I knew that with CO2 it wasn’t simply a case of just turning off the tap. Phasing out needed to happen gradually and consistently, allowing the economy and society the time to adjust. It couldn’t be business as usual right up to the 2050 deadline, the deadline stipulated in the Paris Agreement, and then bother. It most certainly couldn’t involve utilising new oil and gas fields.

Disabled people taking a stand

So, extremely angry, I had travelled up to Westminster on a Wednesday, as I say, exactly one year on from the hottest day and the Wennington wild-fire, and at around the time PMQ’s would have been winding up and parked my mobility scooter right outside the Carriage Entrance to parliament.

I had dressed up the basket on the front to look like it was on fire, with a warning sign showing a wheelchair bound person caught between a fire and a flood; referencing the Wennington wildfire:


Also, the danger from flash flooding, which was tragically emphasised in the run up to my plea hearing by the death of an 83-year-old Chesterfield woman called Maureen Gilbert, who drowned in her home during Storm Babet, as she was unable to escape the rapidly rising water inside her terrace home owing to mobility problems.

‘I cannot run from a climate emergency’

I had carried a placard with fake flames coming out of the top that said, ‘I cannot run from a Climate Emergency’. Neither run literally, because of my disability, nor run from what I felt was my social responsibility to try and spotlight the implications of a climate emergency, not just for the disabled community, but for all vulnerable people – the old and the frail.

I had asked the first police officer who approached me, I believe my arresting officer, to turn on his body cam and record a safety announcement. Me detailing my various disabilities. I also have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), an arthritic like condition that fuses your joints, that has left me with a completely fused neck, and completely fused lower spine, called a bamboo spine.

I explained exactly why I was there, and I was told that I was liable to be arrested:


I remember asking him to see it not as an arrest, but a demonstration in how difficult it would be to save someone like me from a fire at a moment’s notice and to carry me to the safety of a police cell. To see it as an exercise in preparedness. To which, I remember him saying, ‘If you were in a burning building, I’d throw you over my shoulder and carry you out.’

And I remember thinking, if you threw me over your shoulder, it would be like throwing a 13 stone ironing board over your shoulder, as my back and neck are almost entirely fused, and you’d probably drop me and/or break my neck in the process. It certainly wouldn’t be that quick and easy.

Surrounded by cops

My plan was to attract a swarm of cops around me, then use them as bait to attract the press, thereby elevating my protest into newsworthiness, then get nicked.

No D locks, no superglue, no seriously pissed off commuters, just a very uncooperative seriously disabled man on a ‘burning’ mobility scooter, a potential public relations nightmare, saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re strong enough’. Or indeed, only if you’ve got suitably accessible police infrastructure. Which I had hoped to find out.

I was given every opportunity to leave, invited on numerous occasions to carry out my protest along the pavement, away from the entrance. But it felt right to remain just where I was. Right in the middle of what they like to call, ominously, The Sterile Zone:


It’s strange, but I felt both my strongest and weakest at the same time. Surrounded by cops, one of whom apparently had a best friend with MS. None of whom could lay a finger on me, through fear of breaking something.

Who knew that fragility could become a super-power? Through-out, the burning issue of climate change held aloft, perhaps barring the way of the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who’s motorcade would have usually swept past right about then.

One of the police mentioned a secret tunnel right through to Downing Street and a short journey by golf cart.

Finally nicked

I was arrested under the 143 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which I thought was quite apt, as I sincerely believed that I was acting socially responsibly raising these urgent issues, especially for the disabled, the vulnerable and the frail. Those who would be shoved onto the front line of the government’s war against the weather.

I later found out that that particular law had made it illegal to carry a sleeping bag in Parliament Square, in answer to Brian Haw’s more than a decade of dissent and Occupy.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t plucked to safety from my flaming mobility scooter. So, no dodgy optic of me being carried away.

I waited eight months for my day in court. With countless sleepless nights, abject terror and righteousness slugging it out all through the winter, fretting over fines, and legal costs, and the bailiffs seizing my stuff. You can take the tele, but don’t take my Penny Black!

Preparing for court

So, I had done myself a favour and talked to Andy at Green & Black Cross, who straightened me out on quite a few things.

Stuff like, the district judge that I would be getting at my trial last week, having a better understanding of the law than your ordinary magistrate, preferring to be addressed as ‘sir’ or just plain ‘Judge’ to ‘Your Honour’, and that he doesn’t wear the silly Les Misérables head gear. Unlike my nightmares, where he’s also wearing a black hankie.

The good news was that I wouldn’t be getting the dodgy hanging judge Silas Reid, the one who is trying to take away jury trials, basically redact that last little bit of the Magna Carta, and does you for contempt for even mentioning the word ‘climate’. He’s terrorising Just Stop Oil in the Crown Court.

I’d decided to represent myself, as, even though legal stuff just goes right over the top of my head, I’d learn on my feet and try and blag my way through the proceedings. Apparently, you get more leeway. Plus, I’d have a great McKenzie friend, called Josh, courtesy Green & Black, to whisper advice.

Climate change and the impact on disabled people

On the day, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) got off to a very bad start by disclosing crucial documents a quarter of an hour before the hearing. Very shoddy, I must say. But understandable, considering the mountain of paperwork Just Stop Oil is generating. No wonder the guy looked depressed. This apparently pissed-off the judge big time.

Before we got underway, there was just time to take the plea of a Met police officer accused of groping a colleague.

Right from the off, the judge began by making it clear that the existence of a climate emergency was not in question. So, all that evidence I’d gathered, and helpfully stuffed into a ‘bundle’ for the judge and CPS, couldn’t be heard.

I’d spent a lot of time looking at the government’s National Adaptation Programme (NAP,) particularly an outlook from Stephen Belcher, the Chief Scientist at the Met Office:

Climate change is happening now… Heavy rainfall events that can lead to flash flooding are expected to become more frequent and intense across the country. Summer temperatures above 40oC, seen for the first time in July 2022, will become more commonplace by the end of the 21st century.

Also the ‘UK Climate Change Risk Assessment’ (CCRA), the latest one published in January 2022, six months before the Wennington wild fire. Its Executive Summary sounding like an Extinction Rebellion leaflet:

Climate change is happening now. It is one of the biggest challenges of our generation and has already begun to cause irreversible damage to our planet and way of life. We have clear evidence demonstrating the pace of warming in recent decades and the impacts we will face should this continue. As we redouble our efforts to achieve net zero, we must also continue to raise ambitions on adaptation to ensure the UK is resilient to the challenges of a warming world.

CCRA3 landed on cabinet desks in January 2022, six months before the Wennington wild fire, giving us a snapshot of what the government knew about the seriousness and challenges of climate change at that point in time.

So the case would almost entirely revolve around Article Ten of the Human Rights Act 1998, and The Freedom of Expression, and how reasonable I was acting in pursuing this right.

Eight hours of cops bleeding their hearts

The prosecution set out the issues. I was arrested blah blah blah… and showed the body cam footage of my arrest. Me looking almost sullen. Even rude. Not saying a word, as my arresting officer cautioned me.

By that time, I had had two hours of eight cops worth of near constant questions and pleading and befriending and guilt trips. ‘My best friend has got MS.’ ‘I’m a lesbian.’ ‘My dad is dying of cancer and I was planning on visiting him.’ That kind of thing. So, I looked exhausted:


My arresting officer took the stand. I counted five mentions of Just Stop Oil, who were being mass arrested on Parliament Square at the time of my action. Sorry JSO, but I was keen to distance myself from you.

The judge asked me what if there was any campaign group that I was connected to. I told him I was loosely affiliated with DPAC, Disabled People Against the Cuts, although my placard had said DPACC, Disabled People Against Climate Change.

It turned out that the Met had just the one suitably modified van to transport disabled people to the nick, codenamed Pixie1 (my old road protestor mates will appreciate the name). And that had been on its way to Croydon that day with part of the latest Just Stop Oil mass arrest. JSO had been having their last big bash before the summer recess and had pretty much used up every available van and cell inside the M25, including Pixie1.

I’d heard of the arrest of a disabled JSO protestor called Ari, who had been arrested, and witnessed the police practically begging a black cab to take her to the station, and had often wondered whether the cops could possibly handle a group action.

CPS trying their best to smear a disabled man

The CPS and the judge went to great lengths to try and ascertain the size of the gap I had left at the entrance, which they agreed was a double gate.

Did I block anyone? No.

Would I block anyone? Perhaps.

Slowly they scrolled through the grainy, partly obscured Body Cam footage looking for the right angle. Looking to see if I had completely blocked the highway, or whether a vehicle could still get by. Once I realised what they were doing I couldn’t help but give a little chuckle. I had the perfect photo taken by my mate Gareth Morris, where you could clearly see the gap.

When I showed them Gareth’s pic, and that there was plenty of space, the prosecution argued that a vehicle still wouldn’t be able to pass by safely. Whereupon the judge gave me my second spontaneous chuckle of the day, pointing out there were plenty of policeman there to stand between me and a vehicle, to make sure it was safe. He really had it in for the CPS that day.

‘Doing my bit’

I trundled my wheelchair up to the stand, where I dropped my notes, and made a futile attempt to pick them up. I told the court that according to the MS society’s website:

excessive heat can often make MS worse. Which when you consider that we already suffer greatly from fatigue, often mentioned as one of the worst symptoms of MS, the promise of more days, perhaps entire weeks, of 40-degree heat, would make life impossible and intolerable.

I broke down twice on the stand. Once when I spoke of my devastated garden on 19 July 2022, and once when I spoke of the tragic and terrifying drowning of Maureen Gilbert, during Storm Babet, one of the people I said the government had thrown onto the front line of their war against the weather.

I told the judge that I saw this as doing my bit as a 58-year-old man and decried the 20 somethings who were being imprisoned for demanding a future. A future that I felt that I could at least now look in the eye.

A judge sees sense

We waited for the verdict for about half an hour. Me convinced that, whilst the judge might say nice things about my convictions, his hands would be tied legally.

When he came back, after the usher had demanded ‘All Stand’, and according to my friend Saskia’s excellent notes, he mentioned ‘reasonable excuse.’ That ‘The defendant was there to protest under Article 10’. That it had been about ‘Government failure and the granting of new fossil fuel leases.’ About ‘How this would affect people with disabilities. How high temperatures directly affect people with MS.’ The risk of fires, and ‘on the anniversary of the Wennington fire.’

I was so made up that I’d been successful in linking all these elements together on my day in court.

I was, ‘peaceful and dignified.’ And, crucially, there were doubts that it I ‘can be properly said to have been blocking the gates.’ That, ‘Not one vehicle entered or left’ whilst I was demonstrating, so there was ‘no evidence of obstruction.’ I was ‘fully cooperative’ and moved once I had secured my day in court. I was “passionate, articulate and honest in everything that [I] said’. I was proper blushing by this stage, but still expecting the words, ‘but’ or ‘unfortunately’.

He went on. Exploring ‘the balance of rights under Article 10’, and ‘reasonable excuse’, about ‘Zeigler’, which gets mentioned a lot. To be honest, there were loads of legals that just went over the top of my head, including the classic what the hell does that mean? line ‘The occupation was more than minor but less than major.’

I fought the law…

Whereupon, he suddenly blurted out ‘Not guilty. You are free to go.’ Leaving me to just stare into space, until the usher finally chucked me out.

So yes, I can now say that I fought the law, and the law… lost. No guesses as to what tune I first played when I finally got home.

Featured images and additional images via Gareth Morris

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