Cathedral prepares for legal action to end protest camp

Poverty campaigners 'Occupy Sheffield' have camped outside Sheffield Cathedral.
Poverty campaigners 'Occupy Sheffield' have camped outside Sheffield Cathedral.

LEGAL action will begin today to move the Occupy protest camp from Sheffield Cathedral forecourt – unless an eleventh-hour solution can be found.

Protesters have been urged to leave the makeshift camp, which they first set up on November 5. Now, unless the tents are moved, senior clergy will go to the High Court today.

Dean of Sheffield, the Very Rev Peter Bradley, said: “What we really want is a peaceful and easy end, where the cathedral is free to get on with its ministry.

“We feel we’ve been generous and publicly responsible for the way we’ve dealt with the protesters. But this is an impossible situation.

“There’s a broad consensus that it’s time for this protest to end.”

The forecourt is needed to serve as a masonry yard during a £3.5m redevelopment of the cathedral.

Work is due to get under way in October but vacant possession is needed by May when the tendering process will begin – and the cathedral’s governing chapter is aware that time may be needed for two appeals from the protesters before the site can be fully cleared.

Occupy Sheffield has announced its intention to continue the camp, saying it would “send the wrong message if we were to pack up and go at this point.”

On the weekend of January 21 the protesters host a National Occupy Conference, swelling the number of tents with those of the delegates.

In a letter to the cathedral, they say: “It is not a love of camping which causes us to occupy your forecourt in the depth of winter. We are here because the scale and depth of this crisis demands that we make a stand!”

There is some sympathy with some of the issues raised but tolerance has been increasingly stretched over the weeks, the church says.

It says that on two occasions services have been interrupted, fundraising events have been cancelled and the camp has already cost the cathedral tens of thousands of pounds.

Dialogue has been kept open with twice-weekly meetings between cathedral representatives and protesters.

There were hopes that a planned move to the former Salvation Army citadel in Cross Burgess Street would signal the end of the occupation.

But protesters say they intend to maintain a presence at the cathedral even if the camp is downsized.

Today’s legal move should result in formal notice being served to the protesters of a court hearing, which will probably take place next week.