Demonstrators who have been camped outside St Paul's Cathedral in London since October last year were finally evicted on last night as riot police and bailiffs moved in after dark, dragging both tents and protesters away.
Some of those who decided to stay at the campsite in defiance of a High Court order built barricades, while others sat on the steps of Sir Christopher Wren's cathedral as the paraphernalia of their occupation, which has gone on for nearly four-and-a-half months, was cleared into rubbish trucks.
There were minor scuffles as police and bailiffs removed the last remaining protesters from the hastily erected wooden barricades and took another down from a tree. The eviction began just after midnight as police presence around the site grew. Within hours, the area of St Paul's churchyard which had become a symbol of the global Occupy movement in Britain was cleared.
But demonstrators were talking last night about targeting a business in London's West End with a meeting set for early Tuesday morning to finalise a target. Sources said they planned to meet at Piccadilly Circus before moving on the unnamed target.
The mood was calm during last night's eviction, which many of the protesters who have lived at the camp missed having voluntarily moved on after they were denied permission to appeal a High Court order allowing their eviction. Most said before bailiffs arrived that they would not put up a fight but it was understood that an element would resist.
Some claimed they had attached themselves to the barricades using D-locks, while others appeared to co-operate with the police and bailiffs, who numbered more than one hundred and around 40, respectively. Protesters who stayed were warned they risked being in contempt of court and at least five were taken away by police officers, following their removal from the barricades. It is unclear how many were subsequently arrested.
City of London Police said 20 people were arrested in the "largely peaceful" operation.
The City of London Corporation confirmed that the removal of tents and equipment outside St Paul's had been completed.
Officers were also heard to mention that bystanders and members of the press also risked being in contempt of court by being on the land covered by the High Court injunction.
In a statement issued as the eviction got underway, City of London Police said: “The City's iconic backdrop and position at the centre of the world's financial markets means it has long been a location for protest, and the long-running protest camp in St Paul's Churchyard is a prime example of that.
“City of London Corporation bailiffs have begun enforcing a High Court order for the removal of tents and equipment outside St Paul's Cathedral.
“City of London Police officers, supported by Met Police, are ensuring public safety and maintaining order. Officers continue to speak with the local community.
”We'll continue to work hard to keep the City safe for everyone who lives, works and visits here.“
A spokesman for the City of London Corporation, which sought and enforced the camp's eviction, said: “The City of London Corporation has begun to enforce the High Court orders for the removal of the tents and equipment outside St Paul's. We regret that it has come to this but the High Court Judgment speaks for itself and the Court of Appeal has confirmed that Judgment.
“High Court enforcement officers employed by the City of London Corporation are undertaking the removal with the Police present to ensure public safety and maintain order. We would ask protesters to move on peaceably.
“The City of London Corporation is ensuring vulnerable people are being helped and supported to find appropriate accommodation in partnership with Broadway, a charity for the homeless.
“The High Court found in favour of the City of London Corporation in the case against the camp at St Paul's on 18 January 2012. The High Court found that the City of London Corporation 'behaved both responsibly and fairly throughout.'”
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