30 Oct 2011

Bid to evict St Paul’s protesters ‘prudent’ – bishop

The Bishop of London has told the protesters camped outside St Paul’s that they should have a dialogue but that it would be wise for the Church to pursue legal options too.

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of people on the steps of the cathedral, Dr Richard Chartres told the crowd it would be wise for the Church to have the legal option to evict campers in case troublemakers should “take charge”.

He said: “Getting the legal situation clear is probably a sensible precautionary measure.

“We do not know what is going to happen, the camp could be taken over by people who are very different from the ones who are in charge at the moment.

“I think it is a prudent measure.”

Dr Chartres also said that he did not think violent confrontation was inevitable, but that it should be avoided at all costs.

However many of those listening were insistent they would not move away voluntarily, and would have to be forcibly taken away.

Demonstrator George Barda, said: “I think the image of the police dragging people away from the site which is the inevitable consequence of legal action, as we’ve made clear from the beginning.

“I am an absolute believer in non-violence but I am not going to go of my own accord, I will only leave this site if I am removed physically.”

The 35-year-old Londoner also said the camp was “here to stay” through legal battles that could take months.

He added: “I hope this is the first step in a dialogue and the longer he (Dr Chartres) comes to talk to us the more the moral necessity of these groups across the world will become clear.”

Dr Chartres urged the protesters to stop sloganeering and enter into dialogue.

“If we are going to make any changes we have got to move beyond slogans,” he said.

Earlier, the Dean accepted the movement’s request for dialogue “on neutral ground”.

Addressing the throng, Rev Knowles said: “I find it quite difficult that you assume that I do not hold the same views as you simply because I don’t use the same methods of expressing my views as you.

“If dialogue will get us closer, then dialogue we will have.

“But I do think we have to allow ourselves space to do things in different ways as well as doing some things together.”

In an open question and answer session, Rev Knowles was asked whether the Chapter of St Paul’s had been put under pressure by business interests.

In reply he said: “No pressure whatsoever has been put on the Chapter in any way whatsoever.

Both the Dean and the Bishop were criticised during a “sermon on the steps” organised by demonstrators yesterday, during which Rev Paul Nicolson spoke in defence of the protesters.

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of protesters, tourists and passers-by at the “tent city”, Rev Nicolson said: “I do not think they understand the enormity of the injustice that has happened and is happening now.”

Rev Nicolson criticised the corporation, saying it had “no moral authority” to begin evicting the protesters.

“The citizens of the City of London do not live in the City of London, they go home at night just like the protesters here,” he said.

Rev Nicolson was joined by Christian charity workers, a rabbi, humanists, agnostics and other religious leaders at the rally.

Catholic priest Father Joe Ryan, of the diocese of Westminster, drew loud cheers from the protesters.

“There’s a banner up saying, ‘What would Jesus do?’. Jesus would be here,” he said.

The comments came after St Paul’s and the City of London Corporation said that they would try to get orders to evict the protesters.

The cathedral took the decision to close its doors to the public for a week citing health and safety, but reopened them on Friday. Mark Field, the MP for the Cities of London told Channel 4 News he thought the initital decision to close its doors was “spurious”.

“I think to be brutally honest the decision to close the cathedral on the basis of health and safety grounds is based on spurious grounds.

“Every step made by the St Paul’s authorities seems to have made the situation slightly worse. First welcoming the protesters, then closure, and then talk of legal action.

“The presumption was that this was going to be a weekend protest and not a semi-permanent encampment, and I think they wanted to wrest the initiative not realising the protesters would dig their heels in. I think it’s backfired on them.”

The campsite was set up in early October in an attempt to occupy the area outside the London Stock Exchange, an imitation of anti-capitalist protests on Wall Street.

When police cordoned off the entrances to the square where the stock exchange is located, protesters set up tents in front of the nearby cathedral instead.

The initial demonstration on October 15 was part of a worldwide day of action by anti-capitalists which led to violence in some cities, including Rome.