31 Oct 2011

St Paul’s dean resigns over Occupy London protest

Health and Social Care Correspondent

An Occupy London spokesman tells Channel 4 News they never intended for people to lose their jobs, after the dean of St Paul’s becomes the latest cathedral figure to quit. Victoria Macdonald reports.

The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles cited the criticism of his handling of the protesters as his reason for leaving, but said he was leaving with “great sadness”.

In a statement, the dean said it was time for a fresh approach to the “complex and vital questions” raised by the protesters.

The news came as the City of London Corporation, the local authority, announced it is due to hand notices to remove demonstrators from the Occupy London Stock Exchange group (OLSX), who have been camped outside the cathedral for over two weeks in opposition to what they call corporate greed.

The whole situation seems to have gone from the ridiculous to the farcical. Conservative MP Mark Field

Mark Field, the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, which includes St Paul’s, told Channel 4 News: “The whole situation seems to have gone from the ridiculous to the farcical.” Mr Field said if legal action was taken and this led to enforcement action,”things could turn rather nasty”.

Reverend George Pitcher, a former adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the protesters’ arguments “should be heard”, adding: “I don’t believe their target was the church …… the church seems to have got itself into this mess,” (see video below).

The head of OLSX’s legal team, John Cooper QC, told Channel 4 News that although a notice has not yet been served his team were ready to challenge it.

“The serving of the notice is the firing of the starting pistol, and if the client wishes to contest this then we are absolutely prepared to do so,” he said.

St Paul's (reuters)

‘Sad news’

The dean is the second high-profile member of St Paul’s clergy to resign as a result of the protest in the cathedral’s ground. The Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Dr Giles Fraser, resigned last week following divisions among clergy about how to deal with the protesters.

Responding to this afternoon’s announcement, a spokesman for OLSX, Spyro Leemnen, told Channel 4 News: “It’s obviously a surprise for us, it seems the church has been divided recently, but our intention has never been for people to lose their jobs.

“We see this as an opportunity for the church to revise what they stand for and who they should be representing.”

He went on to urge St Paul’s Institute, a cathedral-funded research body, to publish its report on the attitudes of 500 City of London workers, which was delayed until “further notice”.

Reports suggest the publication is highly critical of City workers and that it was delayed because of fears it would indicate a level of support for OLSX.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the Dean Knowles’s resignation was “sad news”.

“The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, and the clergy of St Paul’s deserve our understanding in these circumstances,” he said.

‘No political agenda’

Following the dean’s resignation today, the remaining chapter at St Paul’s voted unanimously to request the assistance of the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres.

In a statement, the bishop paid tribute to the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, saying he had acted “honourably in a very difficult situation”.

He stated that St Paul’s does not have a political agenda and repeated his desire to “shift the attention to the economic and moral challenges which our country, in common with so much of the rest of the world, is having to face”.

In a meeting with protesters yesterday, the bishop said that there is “no use for violent confrontation” and said he shared many of their concerns.

Read more: Who are the St Paul's protesters and what do they want?

Eviction notices set to be issued

The City of London Corporation announced on Friday that it would begin legal proceedings against the protest camp.

Around 200 tents are currently pitched, and activists have been staging their protest for the last two weeks.

Letters to be handed out on Tuesday take the form of a highways notice and will state that that while the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters themselves have the right to protest, their camping equipment represents an obstruction.

Michael Welbank, deputy chairman of the Corporation’s planning and transprtation committee, said: “Protest is an essential right in a democracy – but camping on the highway is not and we believe we will have a strong highways case because an encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others.”

Extract from the resignation statement by Rt Rev Graeme Knowles
"In recent days, since the arrival of the protesters' camp outside the cathedral, we have all been put under a great deal of strain and have faced what would appear to be some insurmountable issues.

"The past fortnight has been a testing time for the Chapter and for me personally. It has become increasingly clear to me that, as criticism of the cathedral has mounted in the press, media and in public opinion, my position as Dean of St Paul's was becoming untenable. In order to give the opportunity for a fresh approach to the complex and vital questions facing St Paul's, I have thought it best to stand down as dean, to allow new leadership to be exercised. I do this with great sadness, but I now believe that I am no longer the right person to lead the Chapter of this great cathedral...

"In recent days, since the arrival of the protesters' camp outside the cathedral, we have all been put under a great deal of strain and have faced what would appear to be some insurmountable issues. I hope and pray that under new leadership these issues might continue to be addressed and that there might be a swift and peaceful resolution."