Disabled activist prosecuted for blocking parliament with scooter

  • Post last modified:April 2, 2024
  • Reading time:7 mins read

The below article is an opinion piece from Neil Goodwin, an activist who was arrested for blocking an entrance to parliament with his mobility scooter

I’m in Westminster Magistrate’s Court at 10am on Wednesday 3 April, charged with blocking the entrance to parliament in my mobility scooter; I’m disabled, living with multiple sclerosis (MS). This is a bit of what I am hoping to tell the judge.

Protesting the climate crisis as a disabled person

On 19 July 2023, exactly a year on from the hottest day on record and the devastating Wennington wild fire, I travelled up to parliament to protest. It was a Wednesday, and Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) was on – the busiest day of the week for parliament and for the media who cover it.

I positioned myself in front of the carriage entrance, facing towards the road:

Neil Goodwin, a disabled man, protesting outside parliament in his mobility scooterNeil Goodwin, a disabled man, protesting outside parliament in his mobility scooter

I had dressed up the basket on the front of my mobility scooter to look like it was on fire, with a warning sign on the from showing a disabled wheelchair user caught between a fire and a flood – referencing the Wennington wildfire exactly a year previously.

It also referenced 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 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 feel is my social responsibility to try and spotlight the implications of a climate emergency, not just for disabled communities, but for all vulnerable people – the old and the frail.

Cops provide a concerning response

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

I remember asking one officer, I think my arresting officer, 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 carry me to the safety of a police cell. To see it as an exercise in preparedness, as it were – to which, I remember him saying:

If you were in a burning building, I’d throw you over my shoulder and carry you out.

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.

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 the Sterile Zone.

Now prosecuting disabled people to acting ‘socially responsibly’

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, yet none of whom could lay a finger on me, through fear of breaking something.

Who knew that fragility could become a super-power; the burning issue of climate change held aloft, perhaps barring the way of prime minister Rishi Sunak who’s motorcade would have usually swept past by then.

So, I was arrested under section 143 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 which I thought was quite apt, as I sincerely believe that I was acting socially responsibly raising these urgent issues, especially for disabled, vulnerable and frail people; those who will be shoved onto the front line of this Tory government’s war against the weather.

I pleaded ‘not guilty’ because I don’t think that I did anything wrong. My mum told me to tell the judge that I had seen the error of my ways – when in fact some of us were beginning to feel a real terror in our days:

Featured image and additional images via Gareth Morris, via via Jamie Lowe

Source link