St Paul's protesters consider calling time on occupation


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The Independent Online

Protesters camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral will meet this evening to decide whether to call time on an occupation which has seen the resignation of three senior members of the church after judges rejected their application to appeal an order for their eviction.

Many within the camp have privately expressed a desire to leave without provoking a fight with bailiffs. But they are worried that some are intent on staying.

“There will be discussions going on tonight and the issue of whether to stay or resist will be part of them,” a spokesman said following today’s judgement. She added that the larger communal tents put up by the protesters are to be taken down tomorrow.

Three judges headed by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, turned down their application to appeal against Mr Justice Lindblom’s ruling in the High Court last month that the eviction proceedings brought by the City of London Corporation were “entirely lawful and justified”.

He granted the Corporation orders for possession and injunctions against Occupy London preventing them from pitching their tents in the Cathedral grounds.

Protesters said recently that they would decide individually whether to stay in breach of the orders. One told The Independent: “I believe the movement should decamp and carry on the demonstration elsewhere, it is about more than just this site. But there are likely to be elements who want to make a stand here.”

A spokesman said the movement was unlikely to try to disassociate itself with fringe elements but instead try to reach a consensus on how to react. The movement is understood to favour a “rolling occupation”, in which demonstrators move on when evicted, only to occupy another building. It has already attempted to take over buildings in east London as a reaction to losing established sites.

The latest ruling marks the end of the legal road in the UK for the St Paul’s demonstrators. “The last remaining option is to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. But that does not bar the Corporation from clearing the site,” their lawyer Michael Paget of Garden Court Chambers said today.

Dismissing their application today, appeal judges said they had raised no arguable case. The limited interference with the protesters’ rights entailed in the removal of the tents – which numbered up to 200 and have been there since October 15 last year – was justified and proportionate, given the rights and freedoms of others.

Its lawyers said that the camp acted as a magnet for disorder and crime in the area, had an impact on worshippers, affected trade, and caused waste and hygiene problems.

But the Court of Appeal was told that the steps taken to evict protesters were more “extreme and draconian” than necessary. John Cooper QC said that the form and make-up of the camp as represented by the tents was part of the expression and integrity of the protest, which was not intended to be indefinite.

He said the judge had carried out a “rubber-stamping exercise” rather than a rigorous consideration of the alternatives.

In the High Court, the protesters said that freedom of expression was a liberty which must be jealously guarded.

The camp did not prevent worship at St Paul’s, and any impact it did have on those visiting, walking through or working in the vicinity was not solely detrimental, they argued.

The City of London Corporation said there was an “overwhelming” case for the court’s intervention because of the impact on St Paul’s Churchyard.

Stuart Fraser, the City of London Corporation’s Policy Chairman, said: “We welcome the Court of Appeal ruling. Everyone has had their day in court and the courts have backed our application to remove tents and equipment from St Paul’s. Peaceful protest is a democratic right but the camp is clearly in breach of highway and planning law. I would call on protesters to comply with the decision of the courts and remove their tents and equipment voluntarily right away.”

The Corporation said it would now enforce the orders made by the High Court for the removal of the tents and equipment, but no timescale was given.