"Occupy" in UK loses legal fight over St Paul's eviction

LONDON Wed Feb 22, 2012 6:10am EST

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LONDON Feb 22 (Reuters) - Anti-capitalism activists lost a legal fight on Wednesday to stay camped outside St Paul's Cathedral in London after three judges rejected their appeal application, heralding the end of their four-month protest.

Their defeat in the Court of Appeal is likely to see the City of London Corporation, on whose land the activists have been camping, call in the bailiffs to remove dozens of tents and evict protesters inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest.

"It's not a surprise," Dan Ashman, one of the protesters, told Reuters after the ruling. "Authorities are untouchable."

He said important equipment such as computers would be removed from the camp of some 150-200 tents and it would be up to the protesters what they do next.

Authorities in some North American cities have used violence to forcibly remove similar camps.

The City of London Corporation had said it would wait until the application for an appeal had been heard before moving in.

London Occupy, part of an international movement, has been protesting against bankers' bonuses and what they say is corporate greed.

The Corporation says it wants the camp removed for safety and hygiene reasons and planning control and because it interferes with a public right of way and the rights of those who wished to worship in the Cathedral.

It won a case in the High Court last month for the tents to be taken away, but the protesters went to the Court of Appeal arguing that their case had "unique and global" significance.

But in a packed but hushed court the Master of the Rolls, David Neuberger, one of the most senior judges in England and Wales, dismissed their arguments.

"Far from it not being open to the judge to make the orders that he made, it seems to us that there is a very powerful case indeed for saying that, if he had refused to make any order in the City's favour, this court would have reversed them," he said in his judgment.

He also said the protesters' argument that their case was of great political importance "cannot be a factor which trumps all others, and indeed it is unlikely to be a particularly weighty factor".

The area around St Paul's is a favourite with tourists and is likely to be thronged by Olympic visitors this summer. The vast domed baroque cathedral is one of London's main landmarks and is where Prince Charles married Princess Diana in 1981.

The protesters chose to pitch their tents at the bottom of its steps in October after they were blocked from their intended target, the nearby square at the London Stock Exchange.

Their cause gained unintended publicity when the cathedral dithered and appeared divided on how to handle the sit-in.

Two senior Anglican clerics resigned and members of parliament including Prime Minister David Cameron stepped into the fray.

The camp has drawn support from some artists and celebrities and received donations, but has also been accused of attracting the homeless and of being too diverse in its causes.

In the United States, police have cleared the flagship Occupy encampments in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and other major cities although a handful of camps remain elsewhere. (Edited by Richard Meares)

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