Occupy London protest: St Paul's Cathedral reopens

Occupy London protest outside St Paul's Cathedral
Image caption St Paul's Cathedral authorities have asked the protesters to leave

St Paul's Cathedral has reopened after being closed to the public for a week over health and safety fears about a protest camp in its churchyard.

A service at 12:30 BST will mark the reopening, although the dome and galleries will remain closed.

The large number of tents pitched by supporters of the Occupy London protest led to the closure last Friday.

The prime minister said the freedom to protest should not imply the "freedom to pitch a tent anywhere in London".

The City of London Corporation's planning committee is meeting to decide whether to take court action against the demonstrators.

About 40 activists attended the start of the meeting but were asked to leave the public gallery when the issue of the camp came up, prompting some to call for the meeting to be held in public.

'Long and complicated'

Speaking at a press conference in Perth, Australia, 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.

"I do think that of course we need the right to protest but these tents, whether in Parliament Square or whether at St Paul's, I don't think is the right way forward and I think we do need to look at this whole area and I'm very keen that we do.

"It's vitally important that important places like St Paul's Cathedral are open to the public, open to tourists.

Image caption Protesters have vowed to remain at the site in the City of London for several weeks

"It was not closed since the war, why is it closed now? So I think the pressure is on to try and deal with this and deal with it rapidly."

A spokesman for the Occupy London Stock Exchange (OLSX) said they planned to stay at St Paul's "as long as possible, as long as it is effective".

A City of London Corporation official said a legal battle to evict the camp could take "three to four months".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Stuart Fraser, chairman of the policy and resources committee at the corporation, said the Church was in a "very, very difficult position".

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, because they have very good lawyers who are doing it pro bono and, of course, we don't know if we will get a full injunction, we may only get a part injunction, but if we assume we get a full one, that will be appealed, no doubt, and I am sure it will go to the Court of Appeal.

"I fear, certainly, it will be three or four months."

Camp 'debacle'

He added that the corporation was not against the protest but said "this beacon of a camp" would attract other groups to the City, disrupting the life of the cathedral.

Adam Chapman, a specialist in public law litigation at Kingsley Napley law firm, said: "The key legal issue is going to be would removal of the village interfere disproportionately with the protesters' rights of freedom of expression?"

Dr Giles Fraser resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul's on Thursday, saying he feared the cathedral was set on a course that could lead to the forcible eviction of demonstrators.

Earlier this week, the Dean of St Paul's, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, said the cathedral authorities had taken legal advice on whether to take court action.

Church authorities have asked the demonstrators to leave the churchyard but the Occupy London group has said it intends to continue its protest against "corporate greed".

St Paul's is able to reopen because of changes to the layout of the tents outside the cathedral.

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Media captionDr Fraser says he cannot support any move by the Church to use "violence"

Meanwhile, writing in the Daily Telegraph, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said the situation was a "debacle".

Lord Carey said he was concerned "that the reputation of Christianity is being damaged" over the events at St Paul's.

He questioned how the cathedral authorities had dealt with the demonstration.

He wrote: "One moment the Church was reclaiming a valuable role in hosting public protest and scrutiny, the next it was looking in turns like the temple which Jesus cleansed, or the officious risk-averse 'elf 'n safety bureaucracy of urban legend.

"How could the dean and chapter at St Paul's have let themselves get into such a position?"

He also accused the protesters of intransigence after refusing to leave when asked and said a picture had emerged of protesters as "spoilt, middle-class children returning home at night for a shower and a warm bed".

"It has been a debacle that should prompt urgent public debate both within the Church of England, and throughout society at large."

The cathedral has claimed to be losing £20,000 a day since its closure.

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