Defeated in the courts, protesters leave without a fight

They battled hard in the courts, but in the end the inhabitants of the Democracy Village put up little resistance when the bailiffs finally moved in.

Shortly after 1am yesterday, a squad of approximately 60 people, dressed in high-visibility jackets and helmets, moved on to Parliament Square to evict the motley coalition of anti-war protesters and rough sleepers who had taken over the patch of grass outside the Palace of Westminster since 1 May.

It was the culmination of an ongoing battle between the temporary inhabitants and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who went to the courts to argue that the camp was "becoming an eyesore" and should be cleared.

Free speech campaigners decried the decision by the Court of Appeal last week to press ahead with an eviction, arguing that the judiciary had clamped down on free speech simply because politicians had lamented the aesthetics of the camp.

The bailiffs themselves, backed up by a squad of police officers, launched the eviction in the middle of the night to avoid any disruption to the morning rush-hour traffic. Last year, when the police tried to remove an ongoing protest by the Tamil diaspora, scores of protesters spilled out onto the roads around Westminster, bringing central London to a temporary standstill and rallying thousands more to a cause that continued its protest for more than 40 days.

Although some of the Democracy Village inhabitants chained themselves to scaffolding with bike locks in protest at the eviction, most simply packed up and left. The Metropolitan Police said no arrests had been made and that their officers had only attended in a "supporting role to High Court enforcement officers".

Most of the camp's inhabitants had only pitched their tents over the past eight weeks, but others had been on Parliament Square for years. Maria Gallastegui, 51, has been holding a one-person vigil for Gaza for four years and was moved off the site last night.

"No-one was hurt but people were forcibly removed," she said. "There are certainly a few bruises. We were so tired and drained by being here for all this time – I think that was an element in them moving us on so quickly. There were clashes. I climbed up on some scaffolding, but the bailiffs were quite swift in moving in."

Brian Haw, the anti-war campaigner who has held a vigil outside Parliament since 2 June 2001, has been spared the eviction and will be allowed to continue his one-man protest.

Colin Barrow, the leader of Westminster City Council, said: "Whilst it is right and proper that [the square] will always be a place where people can voice their opinions, we must find a way to help prevent it being hijacked by vociferous minorities whose primary intent seems to turn this UNESCO World Heritage Site into a squalid campsite."