Mayor wins court orders to evict peace protesters

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The Independent Online

Mayor of London Boris Johnson today won High Court orders evicting peace protesters from Parliament Square Gardens.

But Mr Justice Griffith Williams delayed their enforcement until 4pm on Friday pending any applications to the Court of Appeal for permission to challenge his ruling.

After a nine-day hearing in London he concluded that the Mayor - in deciding to exclude demonstrators from the historic site - had "directed himself correctly, considered all the relevant matters and reached a reasoned decision which cannot be criticised".

He said there was a pressing social need not to permit an indefinite camped protest on the site for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others to access all of Parliament Square Gardens and demonstrate with authorisation - but also importantly for the protection of health.

He noted that the camp had no running water or toilet facilities and there was evidence of criminal damage to the flower beds, graffiti and other related unlawful activity.

There was also evidence that it was acting as a magnet, attracting the homeless who were taking advantage of the lack of control, and there was heavy drinking.

"I am satisfied the Greater London Authority and the Mayor are being prevented from exercising their necessary powers of control management and care of Parliament Square Gardens and the use of Parliament Square Gardens by tourists and visitors, by local workers, by those who want to take advantage of its world renown setting and by others who want to protest lawfully, is being prevented."

A GLA spokesman said: "The Mayor is pleased that the court has supported the Greater London Authority's application to re-gain possession of Parliament Square Gardens.

"The Mayor respects the right to demonstrate - however, the scale and impact of the protest, which has gone on since May 1, has caused considerable damage to the square and has prevented its peaceful use by other Londoners, including those who may have wished to conduct an authorised protest.

"Parliament Square sits alongside a world heritage site and is a top tourist attraction that is visited by thousands of people and broadcast around the world each day.

"We would urge the protesters to respect the court's ruling and now leave the site peacefully."

Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster City Council, said: "We are delighted by this decision as we feel that the hijacking of Parliament Square, one of London's historic public spaces, needed to be brought to an end.

"We all support peaceful protest, but it is completely unacceptable for parts of our city to be occupied and turned into no-go areas by vociferous minorities, however laudable each cause might be.

"This decision will mean that ordinary Londoners and visitors can once again use the square."

The judge said that campaigner Brian Haw had been camping lawfully on a pavement on the eastern side of Parliament Square Gardens since 2001, and had been joined some years later by Barbara Tucker.

They had been conducting their own protest for "Love, Peace, Justice for All" and were in no way a part of the Democracy Village camp who were demonstrating about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, genocide, war crimes and environmental issues.

He said there was "overwhelming evidence" that the Democracy Village defendants had breached byelaws.

He was satisfied that some of them were so motivated by the genuineness of their individual beliefs and concerns that they were displaying "the kind of arrogance" which they believed put them above the law.

In Mr Haw's case, he concluded that an injunction was necessary as he had displayed "such intransigence" in the face of the clearest evidence that the Mayor had not agreed to his occupation of any part of the grassed area of the site.

"But I have reached this conclusion, not without considerable hesitation, because I am concerned about the evidence of his health and I cannot ignore that he has been allowed to demonstrate on the pavement area for so many years and so it may be arguable that the use by him of a small part of the grassed area for a personal tent will not prejudice the rights of others.

"As the terms of the injunction make it clear that he can continue to use a tent or similar structure provided he has the permission of the Mayor, I would expect the Mayor not to enforce the injunction against him until his application for permission has been considered.

"Of course, if Mr Haw should choose not to make an application, the Mayor may consider he has no alternative but to enforce the injunction."

He added that it was clearly in everybody's interests that the possession of the land should be done "in as orderly a way as possible".

The Mayor was awarded his costs after his counsel David Forsdick said that the protesters - the majority of whom are not legally aided - had put the public purse to "very substantial expense".

He told the judge that some of them had property and added: "Let it be abundantly clear that the Mayor will be pursuing all his options in this case."

Mr Forsdick added that it was accepted that Mr Haw and Ms Tucker, who were legally aided, should not be liable for the Democracy Village costs as they had consistently refused to be connected with them.

The judge said that it might be that some of the unrepresented Democracy Village defendants were unfortunate not to get legal aid but they had asked to be added as defendants and there were no grounds for concluding that they must not "live with the consequences" of that decision.