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Homeless blamed for Democracy Village eviction

September 08 2010
Protesters were not causing a proble, says Green Party GLA member

Bailiffs evicted a group of protesters and rough sleepers from a camp in Parliament Square in July, marking a legal victory for Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who had gone to the high court to have the camp removed.

The makeshift settlement, known as Democracy Village, was set up in May mainly to protest against UK involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was home to a diverse group of people including communists, anarchists, peace protesters and rough sleepers.

In his judgement, judge Griffith Williams wrote: "I am satisfied the Greater London Authority and the mayor are being prevented from exercising their necessary powers of control management and care of Parliament Square Gardens."

He also cited the growing number of homeless people being attracted to the area as a reason for the camp's removal. An article in the Guardian claimed activists had said they had "become social workers to their homeless comrades, which has left them less time for direct action". One protester, Maria Gallastegui, told the paper: "The camp has got bigger because people who need a place to stay and be fed have arrived while the activists have got tired and left. We have a major alcoholic problem on the site. Some of them are quite dangerous. But some people have terrible lives all their lives."

In its 11 weeks, the camp had changed from 100 per cent activist to 30 per cent activist and 70 per cent homeless, she added. But Green Party Greater London Assembly member Jenny Jones said it was "a bad day for democracy in London".

"The lack of police presence showed that the protesters were not causing a problem," she said. "Yet the mayor was dogmatic in pursuing an expensive legal process."

It cost 88,000 to bring the case to the high court, a portion of which the protesters are supposed to pay.

Among those evicted was veteran peace activist Brian Haw, who has camped outside the Houses of Parliament since 2001. The eviction order is particularly disappointing for Haw, as he has already successfully resisted attempts by both the previous government and Westminster Council to have him evicted. Ironically, the same day Johnson moved to evict the protesters, the new coalition government announced plans to "restore rights to non-violent protest" as part of its legislative programme.