28 Oct 2011

Legal action to begin against St Paul’s protesters

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

As the City of London and St Paul’s Cathedral launch legal action to clear demonstrators, the head of the legal team representing the protesters tells Channel 4 News it is a “disappointing” decision.

The City of London Corporation has voted overwhelmingly to go ahead with court action to remove more than 200 tents belonging to the Occupy London Stock Exchange (OLSX) group, who have been encamped outside for over two weeks in protest at “corporate greed.”

At the same time, representatives of St Paul’s have announced that they will follow advice and were “regrettably” launching legal action.

‘Greatest reluctance’

In a statement, the clergy said: “The Chapter has previously asked the encampment to leave the cathedral precinct in peace. This has not yet happened and so, following the advice of our lawyers, legal action has regrettably become necessary. The Chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution.”

It’ll do nothing because public opinion is with these people and it will just build and build. Ruairi Conaghan

The head of the legal team representing OLSX, John Cooper QC, told Channel 4 News he was aware of the decisions and are “very disappointed” that the two groups are pursuing legal action.

Protesters say the legal action will strengthen their campaign to stay put.

Actor Ruairi Conaghan, who visited the camp earlier with his son, told Channel 4 News the action is “pathetic and hugely unpopular”.

He said: “It’ll do nothing because public opinion is with these people and it will just build and build.”

Charles Lubar, an international tax lawyer who is based across the road from the protest, said – in his personal opinion- that although he sympathises with some of the underlying frustrations of the group, it seemed a “legally difficult” issue.

“I am in favour of free speech but the question is whether this tent city inhibits this great cathedral,” Mr Lubar told Channel 4 News.

“I think there’s a real theme here and there’s serious concern about the dilemma of the capitalist system and the inequality this entails, but unfortunately I can’t see any coherent solutions to address it,” he continued.

Legal case for clear highways

The City of London Corporation’s planning and transprtation committee is responsible for the Square Mile business district around St Paul’s.

Michael Welbank, the committee’s deputy chairman, 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.”

The cathedral closed on 21 October citing health and safety concerns raised by the protest camp in its grounds.

It is due to open on Friday after Chancellor Canon Dr Giles Fraser resigned on Thursday over differences in opinion about how the protesters should be handled.

Read more: St Paul’s canon quits as legal battle looms

A ‘key national site’

Meanwhile, David Cameron urged church leaders to come to an agreement with the protesters camping in the grounds or world-famous St Paul’s Cathedral and pledged to look at the broader issue of demonstrators being able to pitch up tents “almost anywhere” they like.

Speaking at a press conference in Perth, Australia, the prime minister said he was concerned that the building had not yet reopened its doors.

“It’s a key national site, it’s a key tourist site,” he said. “It’s very important in the whole history and psyche of our country, and I think it’s very concerning that it’s not open.”

He called on the church, the mayor, the police and the Home Office to work together to make sure that the issue can be resolved.