St Paul's protest: legal action is launched

A prayer service was led by the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, the Dean of the cathedral, while protesters continued with their occupation outside

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St Paul's Cathedral and the City of London Corporation are to take legal action to evict protesters camped outside the London landmark.

The corporation's planning and transport committee voted to proceed with court action to remove tents from the public highways by the cathedral.

It came as the cathedral doors reopened after being closed for a week.

The Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters said the corporation wanted a "long, costly legal battle".

Members of the group set up their tents on 15 October and there are now more than 200 erected around the cathedral.

The cathedral closed its doors to the public over health and safety fears about the camp.

Protesters outside St Paul's Cathedral

Protesters have been outside the church since 15 October

Hundreds of people, including some protesters, were allowed into the cathedral to attend a service to mark its reopening at 12:30 BST, although the dome and galleries remained closed to the public.

Michael Welbank, who chaired the Corporation planning committee meeting, 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."

Earlier Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I don't quite see why the freedom to demonstrate has to include the freedom to pitch a tent almost anywhere you want to in London."

St Paul's Cathedral is also taking legal action to remove those protesters camping on its own private property.

A spokesman said legal action had "regrettably become necessary".

He said: "The chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution.

"At each step of the legal process the chapter will continue to entreat the protesters to agree to a peaceful solution and, if an injunction is granted, will then be able to discuss with the protesters how to reach this solution."

'Costly legal battle'

Stuart Fraser, chairman of policy and resources at the corporation, said: "We have no problem with a peaceable 24-hour protest by people without tents - provided the highway is fully usable - but campsites and important highways don't mix."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme earlier, Mr Fraser said they were in a "very, very difficult position".

St Paul's week-long closure and the turmoil surrounding the cathedral and the resignation of its Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser has sparked fierce debate about the wider Church's own mission to the poor and oppressed.

Isn't it - ask the campaigners - supposed to be a movement of people dedicated to the marginalized and disadvantaged?

As the cathedral reopened today, the Dean Graeme Knowles was keen to stress its commitment to social justice. But the truth is that St Paul's is a national shrine, a theatre for the finest religious music and worship. That role was reasserted today.

He said: "The Church has asked them to go, the archbishop has asked them to go, everybody has asked them to go and they are not going, so I am not sure what more we can do to ask them to move.

"This is going to be long and complicated, I fear."

Ronan McNern, from OLSX, said: "We have requested that the Corporation of London and others engage in open dialogue with us and Liberty has offered to facilitate and mediate it.

"But the corporation showed their determination to take us down a long, costly legal battle at a time when public services are being cut."

The spokesman added that the demonstrators were "so glad" that the cathedral had reopened and invited visitors to "pop by our camp".

Conservative MP Mark Field, who represents Cities of London and Westminster, welcomed the corporation's decision, saying: "It's like a third world shanty town outside St Paul's which is a Unesco world heritage site.

The BBC's Sarah Campbell spoke to a protester who was one of the first to enter the reopened cathedral

He told the BBC2's Daily Politics show: "We've got Remembrance Sunday, the Lord Mayor's show all within the next fortnight.

"On that basis I think they are doing the right thing to try and get these people removed but it's going to be a long process."

Addressing the service at the cathedral, the Dean of St Paul's, the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, said: "Today we rejoice that we are once again are able to worship in an open cathedral.

"It stands at the heart of this city as a sign of God's presence, a presence which has the power to save and to transform. A building has stood on this site for well over a thousand years testifying to that truth."

Dr Giles Fraser, who stepped down as the canon chancellor on Thursday, attended the service.

The protesters plan to hold a multi-faith sermon on the steps of the cathedral on Saturday, two weeks since the camp was set up. They have invited the Bishop of London, the Dean of St Paul's and London Mayor Boris Johnson to attend it.

The area around St Paul's Cathedral

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