St Paul's protesters call in their own safety expert and vow to stay put

Kevin Rawlinson
Tuesday 25 October 2011 18:06 BST

The protesters camping outside St Paul's are to call in an independent health and safety inspector. The cathedral closed its doors on Friday, for the first time since the Blitz, claiming that the activists' camp was unsafe.

The Dean had initially expressed support for the protests against corporate greed, which began on 15 October, but then asked the activists to move, citing reports from health and safety officials and fire officers.

But a lawyer for the occupiers, who have promised to stay beyond Christmas, said his clients had received a conflicting report from independent fire safety officers and would be seeking further advice from independent experts.

"The clients are concerned that the health and safety reasons are spurious. They have themselves taken a great deal of steps to ensure the safety of the site, including having a fire officer attend who said it is safe," said John Cooper QC, the protesters' chief legal adviser.

He added: "They want to make sure the site is safe, let's not forget, for their own safety, as well as that of any other visitors. They feel the health and safety issue is very much a PR 'hearts and minds' operation, which one has to be very cautious about."

On Saturday, organisers of the occupation wrote an open letter to the Dean of the Cathedral, the Right Rev Graeme Knowles, seeking to clarify how their protest was considered a health and safety hazard. They said yesterday they had received no reply.

St Paul's cited the presence of flammable liquids, "smoking and drinking within the tented areas", gas cooking equipment, obstructed fire exits, naked flames and other public heath issues including sanitation, food hygiene and rodents, as reasons behind the move.

One source claimed that guy-lines, or ropes, attached to trees and "VIP security due to [the] camp protest" were also "representative of the possible injury to life and limb".

The protesters were formally asked to leave over the weekend, but voted almost unanimously to stay and then set up a second camp at nearby Finsbury Square.

The cathedral said it was losing up to £20,000 a day and held its services in private on Sunday.

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