Legal action to remove Occupy London protesters from outside St Paul’s Cathedral has begun at the High Court amid reports the demonstrators may be preparing to scale down their presence at the site voluntarily.
The City of London Corporation’s contested possession proceedings are expected to last four days in front of Mr Justice Lindblom. The action has been brought to “protect the rights and freedoms of others”, according to counsel David Forsdick.
He said: “The City is not bringing these claims to protect the banks, nor is it bringing them to prevent peaceable protest against the financial sector. Nor is it bringing these claims to stifle freedom of speech.
“It is bringing these claims solely to remove the semi-permanent protest camp because, after very careful consideration, it has concluded it is necessary to do so. It is a pressing social need in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others.”
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However, demonstrators are reportedly considering scaling down their presence outside St Paul’s early next year and setting up a “symbolic tent” within the cathedral. Occupy London began debating the issue over the weekend and there was “widespread consensus” on the move although the details have yet to be ironed out, a source within the site told the Independent.
The source said: “There is widespread consensus that resources at the camp are stretched, and concerns about the long-term viability of the site. We are looking at restructuring and how best to use our other sites.”
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The corporation’s legal action was launched after demonstrators, who first camped outside the cathedral on October 16, failed to comply with a November 17 deadline to clear the “public highway” and removed eviction notices from their tents. Some of the tents are pitched on the footpath next to shops around the cathedral, while others lie in the churchyard.
Concerns over “worrying trends” at the camp have been expressed by the corporation, citing late-night drinking and a reported loss of business for nearby shops.
The Church of England is likely to welcome any compromise agreement after the protests caused the cathedral to close its doors for the first time since the Blitz, while Dean of St Paul’s and its canon chancellor Giles Fraser have resigned in recent weeks. Demonstrators could also claim a moral victory in their battle against the corporation.