Occupy London: 100 Days Since Start Of Protest Marked With Defiant Retreat From City Tower
Occupy London is marking 100 days since the first tents were pitched at its protest camp at St Paul's, as the group comes under criticism for putting contractors' jobs at risk by occupying a redevelopment site at the Barbican.
More than 100 tents have been occupied outside the cathedral since 15 October as part of a wider call for greater financial transparency and fairness on the part of banks and the City of London Corporation.
The London protest is the longest-running 'Occupy' demonstration in the world, after a similar camp in New York City was cleared by authorities in November.
"We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed," the London group said at the start of its occupation. "And we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression."
Initially the protesters had intended to occupy Paternoster Square, the home of the London Stock Exchange. But after being turned away from the site they instead set up camp outside St Paul's.
Occupy's fractious relationship with the cathedral authorities briefly led to the building's closure to the public. Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser eventually resigned over the church's opposition to the protest, and he has since become a vocal supporter for Occupy's right to remain outside St Paul's.
More recently protesters have accused the church of passing evidence against the protesters to lawyers working to seek an eviction order from the High Court on behalf of the City.
On 18 January the High Court backed the corporation's bid to evict the protesters from the area. But one of the protesters has launched an appeal and the rest remained defiant this weekend.
Other occupations by the movement include Finsbury Square and a building owned by investment bank UBS, both in the City of London. The movement has also taken over an abandoned magistrates court in Hackney, where it held mock trials of bankers and politicians over the weekend.
The protesters have also occupied sites at other cities in the UK, including Bristol, Nottingham and Glasgow.
However Occupy was forced into retreat over the weekend over the decision to occupy a new office building in the City of London.
Campaigners entered Roman House in the Barbican at about 3.30am on Saturday, the fifth such occupation they have carried out to date.
Less than 24 hours later they decided to leave, after contractors employed by the building owners were threatened with the sack.
Protesters had rejected claims by Berkeley Homes that the site was dangerous and may have been contaminated with asbestos, but said they chose to leave to avoid putting at risk the jobs of those working on the building.
They now say they will continue a project to educate Barbican residents with a series of public workshops and seminars.
In a statement on its website the protesters said: "Occupy London was contacted by individual workers employed by Berkeley Homes who were concerned for their job security as it transpired they were recently employed to help renovate the building.
"In light of these discussions, yesterday evening it was decided to leave the building.
"We trust that Berkeley Homes will ensure that their redevelopment of the site will make adequate provision for affordable housing."
"In the past 24 hours, the occupation of Roman House in the Barbican in the City of London focused attention, once again, on the refusal of the City of London Corporation to open its accounts to full public scrutiny, a basic duty accepted by every other public authority in the country.
"Response from local residents was tremendous with some coming up to occupiers to wish them support and find out more."
Occupy will hold "teach out" meetings at the centre on Monday to lt the public "join in the debate" on how they are governed.
Some who claimed to be residents of the Barbicandisputed that version of events on the group's website.
One commenter said: "I am a Barbican resident and am certainly not supportive of them using the Barbican area for meetings. It's a family area, with a school on site as well … My council taxes are being wasted on cleaning up after OccupyLSX and additional police presence required."
Other commenters on Occupy's website labelled the group "an embarrassment".
But Derek Robertson, another commenter more supportive of the movement, refused to back down: "Before we started loosing "social housing" there was justice in housing. … But you're worried about a minuscule amount of council tax that might have been spent on a cleaning job? … Straining out gnats while swallowing camels comes to mind."
City of London police said the building had been secured once more and there was no longer a police presence there.
When the group announced its latest occupation, it said the building had previously housed financial service companies.
Campaigners initially vowed to remain at the abandoned block until the City of London Corporation published full details of its City cash accounts.
But Berkeley Homes urged them to vacate the building, expressing concerns they were putting themselves and the public "in real danger".
"It is not safe for public use, there are holes in the floors and we are in the early stages of asbestos removal", a spokesman said.
The company described the protesters' actions as "misguided", saying the previous occupiers were a firm of architects and the site had never been owned by the City of London.