Pressure grows on St Paul's Cathedral over role in Occupy eviction

By staff writers
February 29, 2012

The authorities at St Paul's Cathedral have failed to respond to calls for clear answers about their role in the eviction of Occupy London Stock Exchange yesterday morning (28 February). Police dragged away Christian supporters of the Occupy movement as they prayed on the steps of the cathedral.

Yesterday saw a flurry of contradictory claims and reports about the involvement of the cathedral's authorities. A fresh statement from the cathedral today (29 February), while speaking of the issues raised by the camp, fails to answer any questions about the removal of people from the steps.

The Green Party's candidate for Mayor of London, Jenny Jones, has today called for answers from the City of London Corporation about their discussions with the cathedral. Occupy London, Christianity Uncut and the Christian thinktank Ekklesia have urged the Cathedral Chapter to be clear about its role in the eviction.

The eviction order covered only land belonging to the corporation, so protesters thought they were safe in retreating to the cathedral steps. But they were surrounded by riot police who threatened them with arrest. Those who peacefully refused to move were physically dragged away.

A YouTube video shows police claiming that they had the cathedral's permission.

A spokesperson for the cathedral told journalists yesterday, “The police did not ask for permission from us regarding any aspect of the action taken last night. We were clear that we would not stand in the way of the legal process or prevent the police from taking the steps they needed to deal with the situation in an orderly and peaceful manner”.

Some read this as meaning that the cathedral had effectively given permission in advance.

Jenny Jones, who is a member of the Greater London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee, today pointed out that “Both the City of London Corporation and the Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral had been informed that there would be people praying on the steps”.

She added, "As the police authority for the City of London police, the City of London Corporation should urgently clarify whether they did in fact have permission from St Paul's Cathedral to clear the steps as they told protestors they did. If they did not, then this may call into question the legality of the action that was taken.

Occupy London have criticised “the collusion of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the eviction they had previously said that they did not want to see”. A press statement from the group alleged that police had been seen on the balcony of the cathedral.

Questions and accusations have flown around the internet. The phrase “St Judas' Cathedral” appeared, in reference to what is seen as the treachery of St Paul's. Members of the Church of England were among those who used Twitter and blogs to express their anger and sadness at the sight of police dragging away people as they prayed on the steps of a church.

The forced removal of people kneeling in prayer was captured on film. As the eviction went on, people shouted “Father forgive them, for they know what they do” and “This was built as a house of prayer; you have turned it into a den of robbers”.

At least five people were removed while praying, including Quakers and Anglicans. Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley was kicked in the back by police. Ekklesia's associate director Symon Hill was removed three times as he sought to return and continue praying.

“I was deeply shocked and upset to be removed from the steps of a church as I peacefully prayed,” said Symon Hill.

He added, “The Cathedral Chapter have urgent questions to answer. They need to explain what they knew and at what point. They need to be clear about their communication with the police and if, and in what way, they gave permission for the police to remove people from the steps.”

As Christians prayed around the camp during the eviction, they were approached by a number of the occupiers to thank them for what they were doing.

As the pressure grows on the Cathedral, there have also been calls for the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, to make a statement.


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