Occupy London’s camp at St Paul’s cathedral was cleared by police and bailiffs in the early hours of this morning, Tuesday.
Hundreds of occupiers and their supporters turned out to resist the destruction of the camp, which has been an unofficial landmark in the capital since it began on 15 October last year.
The occupiers were given just five minutes notice to clear their tents and belongings before the forced eviction.
The City of London and police had refused to tell the protesters when the eviction would take place. But they knew that the City had informed local businesses of a “deep clean” on Wednesday—implying that the camp would be removed by then.
Around ten City of London police vans arrived at the site just after midnight. Some protesters picked up their things and left, but many more decided to resist.
A number of floodlights were switched on, lighting up the area.
A large barricade was hastily built in the middle of the churchyard from wooden palettes the tents had been pitched on.
Music blared from a sound system and flares were set off, bathing the crowd in red smoke.
But riot police eventually forced activists out of the yard and tore down the structure.
Giles Fraser, the former canon of St Paul’s cathedral who resigned in protest at the church’s opposition to Occupy, was held back from entering the churchyard by police.
Many protesters assembled on the cathedral steps, an area not under the City of London’s jurisdiction.
Yet police forcefully cleared these activists away, after police insisted that the cathedral had given them permission to do so.
This angered many of the Christians who had gathered on the steps in solidarity with the camp. Police dragged and pushed them too, some as they were praying.
Michael, a health worker who had spent time providing first aid at the camp, described the policing as “heavy handed”.
“This is disappointing, but expected,” he said, adding that the government were desperate to clamp down on protests because people could see how weak they are.
“This is the longest occupation so far,” he said. “Now after four months the movement can re-form. It’s healthy.”
But despite the clearance, Occupy London activists remained positive. “This is only the beginning!” people shouted as they assembled on the road in front of St Paul’s.
They collected the belongings that had not been removed by bailiffs and cleaners and made their way to the occupied School of Ideas in Islington after a brief stop-off by Millennium Bridge.
Ragnhild Freng Dale, a student, was also at the eviction. She described the number of police as “ridiculous”.
“It was relatively peaceful, but you could feel the threat of violence from the police,” she said. “But this movement is much bigger than the tents. You can throw the tents into a wagon, but you can’t pack us away. We can walk away with our heads held high.”
John Sinha, who has camped at the site since the start, said now it was time to build the movement outwards.
“This is far from the end of the Occupy movement,” he said. “This is not over.”