LONDON (Reuters) - A British court ruled on Wednesday that a protest camp denouncing economic inequality should be removed from its site outside London’s landmark St Paul’s cathedral.
Dozens of activists from Occupy London, part of an international movement inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest that began last September, have been camping outside St Paul’s since October.
They are engaged in a legal battle with the City of London Corporation, which has policing powers in the area and wants to evict the campers.
At a packed High Court hearing, judge Keith Lindblom said the camp should be removed on grounds of safety and hygiene and to allow better access to the cathedral for worshippers.
“(The corporation) gave the defendants ample opportunity to remove the protest camp without the need for time and money to be spent in legal proceedings,” said the judge.
Dozens of Occupy London members stood in the courtroom, some wearing hats adorned with symbols of peace and nuclear disarmament, and one shouted “Shame!” as the judge finished reading out his ruling.
John Cooper, a lawyer representing Occupy London, said the campers would appeal against the decision. A lawyer for the corporation said it would allow the protesters seven days to lodge an appeal.
Protester Rosa O‘Connor, a 27-year-old student, said she was concerned the authorities would try and use force to remove the campers.
“I think the protest movement is immovable,” she told Reuters after the hearing.
“It has affected so many people ... over issues that were previously overlooked or pushed to one side, taboo or even boring. It has made economics trendy.”
The protesters had originally targeted the nearby London Stock Exchange, but were blocked from the surrounding square and instead set up camp outside St Paul’s in a blaze of publicity. The vast domed baroque cathedral is one of central London’s main landmarks. Prince Charles married Princess Diana there in 1981.
Helped by the backdrop of a top tourist attraction, protesters succeeded in drawing international attention to grievances such as bankers’ bonuses, the gap between rich and poor and the perceived greed of a privileged minority.
The impact of the protest was amplified by the response from the Church of England, which was divided over how to handle the situation. Two senior clerics resigned from posts at the cathedral over the issue, drawing further media attention.
However, the leaderless movement has not articulated a clear set of concrete demands and its aims remain nebulous in the eyes of many of the financial services workers who walk past the camp every day.
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 in place around the country.
The movement has influenced the U.S. political debate, although there too it has been criticized for failing to achieve much beyond highlighting the injustices of the global economy.
Writing by Estelle Shirbon