Parliament Square sealed off after protesters evicted

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The Independent Online

London's Parliament Square Gardens was sealed off today after anti-war protesters were forcibly evicted by bailiffs.

A handful of demonstrators were left voicing their disapproval from the street after temporary metal fencing was put up around the square.

The protesters in the makeshift camp known as Democracy Village were removed in the early hours after losing a Court of Appeal battle to stay there last week.

Court officials arrived at 1am to move them on, with protesters claiming they were left "bruised but unperturbed" after a short-lived attempt to stop the bailiffs moving in.

About a dozen protesters remained outside the square by 8am, with some brandishing banners emblazoned with "the dispossessed".

Londoner Maria Gallastegui, 51, who has been camped outside Parliament for four years, said: "No-one was hurt but people were forcibly removed. There are certainly a few bruises."

The campaigners had originally hoped to fend off the bailiffs until the rush-hour.

But she said protesters did not put up much of a fight because they were "drained".

"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."

Ms Gallastegui said at least one protester had chained themselves to the scaffolding and another was on top of a lorry containing fencing which was to be put around the square.

As temporary fencing was put up, cleaners from the council moved in to rip up the village and clear the site.

Police confirmed they had made no arrests during the eviction.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said officers were "in a supporting role to High Court enforcement officers".

"The role of the police in such circumstances is to be on stand-by to prevent a breach of the peace and to deal with any crime," he added.

Last month, High Court judge Mr Justice Griffith Williams granted orders sought by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, but their enforcement was delayed pending an appeal to Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger, Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton.

Counsel Jan Luba QC argued that the Mayor had no right to evict the demonstrators because he did not own the land, which belongs to the Queen, and had failed to prove any legal title to it.

Even if Mr Johnson could bring the proceedings, a court could not order possession because it would be incompatible with laws relating to rights to free speech and assembly, said counsel.

But the Mayor's QC, Ashley Underwood, said Parliament Square Gardens was an open space which the public had a right to use.

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.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London said the protest had caused "considerable damage to the site and had prevented its use by others, including lawful protesters".

She added: "The square will now be closed temporarily, during which time the site will be restored for the use of Londoners, visitors to the capital and responsible protesters."

Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster City Council, said: "We are relieved this dreadful blight of Parliament Square has finally come to an end, and look forward to it being restored to its previous condition so all Londoners can visit and enjoy it.

"Whilst it is right and proper that it 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."

The likes of Brian Haw, who has been camped out since 2001 near the Houses of Parliament, were not moved on after pitching up spots on the pavement.

Commuter Mark Wright, 38, from Clapham, south London, said of the new fences: "They're almost as unsightly as the protest camp. I'm not sure which I prefer."