LONDON — An Occupy London protest camp that has sprawled outside the city's St. Paul's Cathedral for three months must be removed, a British judge ruled Wednesday.
High Court Judge Keith Lindblom backed local authorities who are trying to evict the protest against capitalist excess, inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement.
The protesters, who have been encamped outside the 300-year-old church since mid-October, said they plan to appeal.
The local authority, the City of London Corporation, has argued that the right to protest does not justify a semi-permanent campsite affecting the rights of worshippers, businesses and tourists.
During a five-day court hearing last month, lawyers for the city argued that the camp is harming nearby businesses. It also said protesters are drinking late into the night and creating an unpleasant atmosphere.
The protesters' lawyers argued that the case raises an issue of "extreme public importance" and said freedom of expression is a liberty that must be jealously guarded by the courts.
But the judge ruled that factors including obstruction of a public footpath and the nuisance to cathedral visitors added up to "an unusually persuasive case" for eviction.
"The freedoms and rights of others, the interests of public health and public safety, and the prevention of disorder and crime, and the need to protect the environment of this part of the City of London all demand the remedy which the court's orders will bring," he said.
The corporation's policy chairman, Stuart Fraser, said he hoped the protesters would voluntarily remove their tents.
"If not, and subject to any appeal proceedings, we will be considering enforcement action," he said.
The protesters set up camp outside the cathedral after they were prevented from camping in front of the nearby London Stock Exchange.
Their proximity to Christopher Wren's icon has embroiled the church in a conflict between bank-bashing protesters and the city's finance industry. The church's position on the protesters has shifted several times, and the cathedral's dean and a senior priest both resigned over the crisis.
The Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, said that whatever happens next, "the protest has brought a number of vital themes to prominence."
"Bishops cannot have all the answers to what are complex economic problems," he said. "What we can do, however, is broker communications and make sure that a proper connection between finance and its ethical and moral context is found."
Occupy London: http://occupylsx.org/
City of London Corporation: http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation