The City of London Police Commissioner has revealed that St Paul's Cathedral gave the police permission to forcibly remove Occupy protesters from the cathedral steps. This contradicts claims made by the cathedral authorities.
The news comes as the new Dean of St Paul's, David Ison, prepares to be formally installed in his post in a ceremony at the cathedral today (25 May).
The cathedral have denied that they gave the police permission to remove Christians who were dragged from the steps as they knelt in prayer during the eviction of the Occupy camp on 28 February. The court's eviction order applied only to land belonging to the City of London Corporation, not to the cathedral.
But in a dramatic new development, Adrian Leppard,the City of London Police Commissioner, has stated in a letter to London Assembly member Jenny Jones: “Permission was given by St Paul’s to clear the steps”.
He added: “Any persons remaining on the steps were not there with the permission of St Paul's and in doing so they became trespassers”.
The Commissioner's letter contradicts the claims of the Canon Pastor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Michael Colclough, who said that it was the Corporation of London, rather than the cathedral, which had given permission to remove people from the steps.
After two weeks during which the cathedral authorities avoided questions on the issue, Michael Colclough claimed on 15 March that “the Corporation [of London] asked the police to clear the area [i.e. the steps]”.
Sam Walton, a Quaker who was removed from the cathedral steps while he prayed, today accused the authorities at St Paul's Cathedral of acting in “a fundamentally dishonest and unchristian manner”.
He said, “They have misled the public in saying it was the Corporation of London who had asked for the area to be cleared of protesters”.
Walton called on the new Dean, David Ison, to launch a thorough investigation into the cathedral's role in the eviction.
Walton was one of five Christians who, following their removal from the steps while praying, requested a meeting with Michael Colclough in March. The Canon Pastor refused to meet with them.
Another of the five, Anglican Siobhan Grimes, today expressed her disappointment with the cathedral's behaviour.
She explained, “The Trustees of St Paul’s Cathedral repeatedly made statements welcoming Occupy and speaking of social and economic justice. But when push came to shove, they seem to have been more influenced by the wishes of the City of London than inspired to uphold a faith built through communities of radical friendship and social equality.”
She described the situation as “a great sadness to the many Christians who uphold the values of the Occupy movement as an expression of their faith”.
Other Christians who were removed while praying include George Barda, who had been involved with Occupy since it early days; Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Ekklesia thinktank who recently stood as a Green candidate for the Greater London Assembly; and Symon Hill, a Christian writer and associate director of Ekklesia.
All are members of Christianity Uncut, an informal network of Christians campaigning against the UK government's cuts agenda.
Hill said today that the latest revelation gave renewed urgency to questions about how the Christian Church relates to issues of economic justice.
He explained, “St Paul's Cathedral includes good people doing good things, but this does not excuse their behaviour. They have given a strong impression that their instinctive loyalty is with the City of London rather than with those protesting against it.”
He added, “On the morning of 28 February, we saw two possible futures for Christianity in Britain. On the one hand, we had an institutional church that shut its doors on peaceful protest, colluded in their violent removal from its steps and then evaded questions about it. On the other hand were informal groups of Christians who prayed – either at the camp or at home – in solidarity with people of all religions and none who are resisting economic injustice with active nonviolence.”