Climate Activists Chip the Case Protecting the Magna Carta

The two protesters, who are both in their 80s, held up a sign that read, “The government is breaking the law”

Elderly Just Stop Oil Activists Break Glass Protecting The Magna Carta
Sue Parfitt, 82, and Judy Bruce, 85, cracked the glass protecting the Magna Carta on the morning of May 10. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

Two climate activists have damaged the glass protecting the Magna Carta, Britain’s monumental 13th-century document that limited royal authority and ensured individual rights.

Sue Parfitt, an 82-year-old priest and retired psychotherapist, and Judy Bruce, an 85-year-old retired biology teacher, are associated with the group Just Stop Oil. This morning, the pair entered London’s British Library and took a chisel and hammer to the Magna Carta’s protective glass. They then held up a sign that read, “The government is breaking the law.”

“This famous document is about the rule of law and standing up against the abuse of power,” said Bruce after cracking the glass, as seen in video footage of the event. “Our government is breaking its own laws.”

“I’m a Christian, and I am compelled to do all that I can to alleviate the appalling suffering that’s coming down the line and is here already,” said Parfitt. “Whatever it takes. Whatever the cost.”

Just Stop Oil has connected the protest to a recent court ruling: On May 3, the United Kingdom’s high court found that the government “acted unlawfully when it approved a plan to meet climate targets without evidence that it could be delivered,” per the Associated Press’ Sylvia Hui.

“The court found there is not enough evidence that there are sufficient policies in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet its legally binding carbon budgets and its pledge to cut emissions by more than two-thirds by 2030, both of which the government is off track to meet,” says Just Stop Oil in a statement.

After the incident, the British Library announced that its Treasures Gallery would be temporarily closed.

“The library’s security team intervened to prevent further damage to the case, which was minimal,” wrote the library’s press office on social media. “The police were notified, and the Magna Carta itself remains undamaged.” The press office also posted photos of the display case, which show that it is barely cracked.

Elderly Just Stop Oil Activists
The pair took a chisel and hammer to the Magna Carta's protective casing, though they caused minimal damage. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

London’s Metropolitan Police says officers have arrested two individuals “on suspicion of criminal damage,” both of whom are now in custody, according to CNN’s Catherine Nicholls.

For several years, Just Stop Oil and other climate activist groups have been targeting renowned artworks and historic documents as part of their demonstrations. While these incidents often damage protective frames and cases, they rarely cause harm to the works themselves. In almost all cases, the protests try to draw attention to the climate crisis.

“Instead of acting, our dysfunctional government is like the three monkeys: ‘See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing—pretend we’ve got 25 years,’” says Bruce in Just Stop Oil’s statement. “We haven’t! We must get off our addiction to oil and gas by 2030—starting now.”

Issued in 1215, the Magna Carta is often described as one of the core texts in the history of democracy. In the centuries following its creation, it influenced a number of other historic documents—including the United States Constitution.

“The Magna Carta is rightly revered, being of great importance to our history, to our freedoms and to our laws,” says Parfitt in the statement. “But there will be no freedom, no lawfulness, no rights, if we allow climate breakdown to become the catastrophe that is now threatened.”

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