Police remove last anti-war protest tent near Parliament

Police removing the last anti-war tent
Image caption Police removed the last anti-war tent early on Thursday evening

Police are removing the last anti-war protest tent outside Parliament.

It comes after the High Court ruled that an injunction stopping the removal of the last tent in Parliament Square could be "lifted immediately".

Peace campaigner Maria Gallastegui, 53, had challenged new by-laws giving Westminster Council the power to clear the area of "sleeping equipment".

Ms Gallastegui, who has been there since 2006, co-operated with police officers as they removed her tent.

She said: "This is not the end. We are going to go to the Court of Appeal. If we lose at the Court of Appeal we are going to go to Strasbourg."

However, she added: "In a way this is a liberation for me. It is a big responsibility for me to have this in Parliament Square. Of course it is also a very profound statement, that is why I wanted to make the signs so large.

"It has had a big impact, bigger than I could ever have imagined. My site has been photographed every day."

Ms Gallastegui said she would claim the large box which was the focal point of her protest from the police and auction it to raise money for an orphanage in Iraq.

The council has offered her assistance to find temporary accommodation.

'No merit'

Turning down her attempt to appeal, the court said the case had "no merit", but added she could protest "24 hours a day" without a tent.

Last week High Court judge Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Silber ruled the local council's by-laws, under which protesters are not allowed to set up tents or "sleeping equipment" in Parliament Square, were lawful.

Ms Gallastegui had approached the court to seek permission to appeal against the previous decision, claiming her case raised issues of general public importance and the court had got the law wrong.

Image caption Maria Gallastegui has been protesting in Parliament Square since 2006

Ruling on her application for permission to make an appeal, Sir John said: "Our view is clear - there is no merit in any of the points that have been made."

The activist's request to allow the injunction to remain in place until she approached the Court of Appeal directly was also turned down.

Protest 'not affected'

Following the decision, Ms Gallastegui said: "There is a little bit of sadness. We have put a lot of emotion into the camp but this is not the end."

She added: "This case is not about tents. What we are arguing about is the ability to maintain sustained political protest."

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, which came into force in December, gave Westminster Council powers to stop a "prohibited activity".

They include the erection of tents and "other structures" which allow people to sleep or stay somewhere "for any period".

The protester, who has held 24-hour vigils on the east pavement of the square, obtained an injunction against the council preventing it from enforcing the by-laws.

She argued the laws violated her rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Westminster 'no campsite'

But Sir John said: "The right to protest is not affected save to a very, very limited extent that the claimant cannot have a tent or other similar facility in Parliament Square.

"She can protest 24 hours a day without it."

He added that if the protester eventually won a case in the Court of Appeal she would be able to set up her tent again.

Image caption A new law gives the council powers to stop people putting up tents up in Parliament Square

Members of the public had also raised the issue of tents in the square causing "significant material detriment to the area", the judge said.

"Therefore we consider the balance of convenience is overwhelming and we have not the slightest doubt that this is a case where the law should take its course," said the judge.

Councillor Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster City Council, said the council had worked hard to find a solution without prohibiting the rights of free speech and protest.

"They [protesters] have no right to inhabit a public square designed for everyone to use. Westminster is not a campsite," she added.

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