Ed Thornton St Paul’s row: Giles Fraser resigns
Giles Fraser Clarity at the heart of the St Paul’s storm
THE reader will, I hope, excuse me if I do not address the complicated issues that currently beset St Paul’s Cathedral. Suffice to say, when you sit in the middle of a storm, and a great deal of misinformation is flying about, you are thrown back on the fundamentals of your faith.
No one ever said that following Jesus would be easy. In fact, as Christians, we are given fair warning that the opposite is likely to be the case. And so it turns out.
But one of the most interesting things about these challenging times is how scripture comes alive. Indeed, I do not remember the Bible ever speaking to me as vividly as it does today. As the saying goes, I don’t read scripture: scripture reads me…
TO GIVE them their due, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s knew the reaction they would get when they cited health and safety as the reason for the closure of the cathedral. Their mistake last Friday was to treat this as a normal crisis: make the statement, get the official spokesman lined up, and plan to follow up on the Monday, when senior staff were next available for consultation. From this viewpoint, it did not seem to be a problem that the completed health-and-safety report would not be ready until late on Monday. Unfortunately, and predictably, the story continued to develop throughout the weekend, and, without a robust and detailed defence of the closure, suspicion was allowed to grow that the Chapter had turned against the protesters, concerned more for its lost tourist revenue than for a courageous witness against the evils of capitalism. As a result, when some (not all) of the report was released on Tuesday, it was largely derided…
Riazat Butt, Sandra Laville and Shiv Malik Giles Fraser resignation: ‘I couldn’t face Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul’s
…Forcible eviction looks inevitable, however, with the Metropolitan police taking a keen interest in the escalating crisis.
The land around the cathedral is within the City of London police area but the force is working with the Met to decide how to deal with the encampment.
Amid growing tensions, protesters using Twitter said armed police had entered the camp, as a tent belonging to Kurdish activists was searched. The City of London police said its officers had gone to the camp in response to reports of a firearm.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Met, said police were in the last stages of assessing whether to clear the demonstrators under section 14 of the Public Order Act. Under section 14 police can forcefully remove the protesters outside St Paul’s and those gathered in Finsbury Square if they believe the disruption to the public and the people working in the area is “serious”.
The commissioner indicated a judgment on that would come within 48 hours. “Deciding what is serious is what we are in the process of doing,” he told the Metropolitan Police Authority. “We need to have some kind of consensus so we are in the process of asking that question.”
He said discussions were continuing and information was being gathered from shopkeepers, the landowners and other members of the public to assess the level of disruption. Once this work had been done a decision on taking clearance action would be made. The MPA was told by some members that shopkeepers in the area had seen their takings down by 80% since the tented encampment began.
Hogan-Howe said the situation facing the police was complex. “If there is criminality being committed we need to do something about it. And there is some evidence that some of the protesters are leaving at night and coming back during the day. Taken together they have got a legitimate right to protest, they have no legitimate right to commit crimes. That is the complexity of what we are trying to deal with.”
The land was owned by different people, which compounded the issue, Hogan-Howe said. “Either we ignore it and the property owners take some kind of injunctions out, or we use the criminal law, or we use injunctions and the criminal law … that will require careful judgments over the coming days.”
The Home Office refused to say whether the home secretary, Theresa May, or Home Office representatives had been in direct contact with church authorities after suggestions that the government department had put pressure on the church to get protesters evicted…
“It is very hard to take the temperature of the Church of England,” said Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times. “In a poll last week we found 65% of church members believing it was right to welcome the protesters, but there are equally bound to be lots of churchgoers out in the country who think it is right to take a firm hand to them. I suspect whatever people think of the demonstrators though, most will think the church has taken an utterly wrong approach to dealing with the situation. It is such a shame: we have just had our best publicity for ages over Rowan Williams challenging Robert Mugabe to his face and now this comes up and clearly damages the church’s reputation once again.”
Editorial: In praise of … Giles Fraser
…Now we’re told the cathedral will reopen and the bishop of London, who lives over the occupation, will descend and speak to the protesters on Sunday. That should be fun. By now the whole situation is approaching farce, in which all the players are adding to the spectacle. That is not a dignified position for the cathedral, but one it richly deserves. In the meantime, at least the chapter has proved to a doubting nation that the Church of England can make a fool of itself about a subject which has nothing to do with sex.
More in the morning…