St Paul's invites police to evict Occupy from Cathedral steps

By staff writers
28 Feb 2012

St Paul's Cathedral actively abetted the forcible eviction of the Occupy camp early this morning (28 February 2012), inviting the police onto church property to remove protesters.

Afterwards, Christians praying on the Cathedral steps were violently pushed and kicked by police, they say, when the police were invited by St Paul's to "clear the steps".

It appears that a Trespass Order was granted, though this was definitely not part of the High Court judgement against the encampment rather than demonstrators, and has greatly angered Occupy supporters. "Shame on you, St Paul's!", one tweeted.

Ekklesia thinktank co-director Jonathan Bartley, reporting from inside the police cordon at the eviction, conducted an on-camera interview with a police officer who said that they had been given permission to come onto the steps by the Cathedral - which has previously sought to suggest, under public and Christian pressure, that it did not wish to see a violent eviction.

Mr Bartley was one of those kicked and pushed in the back as he knelt to pray in the final moments of the forcible removal of Occupy, at around 3.30am. Others were dragged away from the steps, including Ekklesia associate director Symon Hill, and some were arrested - though not pray-ers, it seems.

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, who resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul's, precisely because of his opposition to a forcible and potentially violent eviction sanctioned by a Christian church, had some of those fears sadly confirmed this morning.

But he was not able to be there personally to witness at close quarter the denouement of events in which he has played a significant part, because he was refused permission to go behind the police barricade, apparently being kept out for over an hour and a half.

The developments on the final night of the Occupy LSX camp, removed after a court order obtained by the Corporation of London, again with the support of the Cathedral, constituted an ironic reversal of what happened on the very first day, 15 October 2011.

When Occupy first arrived to mount their encamped protest against corporate greed and economic injustice, Canon Fraser welcomed them and recognised their democratic right to be there.

He went further and asked police to move off the steps of the Cathedral. But during the eviction last night (28 February 2012) he was himself excluded while his former colleagues invited the authorities to clear the steps.

The big irony in all this, one protester noted "is that St Paul was a tent-maker!"

Occupy supporters, both Christians, those of other faiths and those of no religious belief but good faith, say that they are dismayed and shocked at what one described as the "un-Christian" stance taken by some at the Cathedral.

"There are big questions about what the role of the church is in the modern world," OLSX supporter Naomi Colvin told the BBC.

Another backer commented: "We are working for social and economic justice, values which the church is supposed to share... This was an opportunity for St Paul's... there has been a lot of talk [from them] but little or no action."

Further questions are likely to be asked about whether Cathedral staff were informed about the timing of the eviction in advance - a possibility enquired about by the network Christianity Uncut and those involved in the Ring of Prayer.

"I'm delighted the Ring of Prayer was there to show a quiet and reflective solidarity with Occupy, but I'm saddened and ashamed at the final collusion of St Paul's with the powerful," one observer told Ekklesia.

"St Paul's Cathedral have behaved shamefully. They've allowed police to drag away people peacefully praying on their steps," added Ring of Prayer co-organiser Symon Hill, who was bruised and shaken after a number of removals.

Clergy from other churches who had come along to express support for Occupy's vision and initiative gave interviews about the protest and eviction to the BBC and other reporters.

There has been praise for a number of people associated with St Paul's who have urged a different way forward.

A group of clergy, theologians and church workers from different backgrounds wrote to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral on 7 February, politely asking them to "make a public statement saying that they do not support a forced eviction of the Occupy camp."

Initial signatories included Anglican priest and journalist the Rev George Pitcher and Oxford biblical scholar Professor Christopher Rowland. Over 80 others joined their names to the letter (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16247) via Ekklesia and the Church Peace website.

A a reply came from the Rt Rev Michael Colclough, the Canon in Residence at the Cathedral. It made no mention of the primary purpose of those writing, seeking instead to pass off a forceful removal of Occupy as a "disbanding".

More positively, the letter did, however, mention "discussing with Occupy how assemblies might continue to meet periodically outside the cathedral" after an eviction."

Though a dialogue was built between protesters and the Cathedral, with encouragement from many others around the movement and the churches, the different ethos and approach of a hierarchical institution and a non-hierarchical grassroots initiative remained somewhat at odds, it has been noted.

Strains are likely to be greater now that the Cathedral has so directly allowed and abetted a forcible removal on and adjacent to its property.

However, legal questions are also being asked about aspects of the police actions taken during the removal, including removal of people on the steps of St Paul's, kicking people praying, and the treatment of reporters and cameramen seeking to cover the events.

Since no allegations of aggravated trespass have been made, the trespass on the Cathedral steps was a civil matter, giving the police no right to remove people unilaterally, it is being argued. The court order was for the removal of tents, not people.

Ring of Prayer and Christianity Uncut spokespeople expressed gratitude that violent confrontations were avoided, with scuffles involving a small number of those on the last wooden barricade being the only exception.

Both protesters and their supporters, including those who gathered to pray, were to be congratulated in helping to diffuse a tense atmosphere and ensure that the focus of the media was on the subject and good character of the protest itself, they said.

* Police move in to forcibly evict Occupy protest at St Paul's - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16338

* Lessons from the Occupy eviction (Ekklesia comment) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16339

* Church Peace: http://www.churchpeace.org.uk/ (correspondence with St Paul's)

* Occupy's starfish power regenerates protest, by Giles Fraser - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16341

[Ekk/3]

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