A new law drafted late last year has finally been put into operation as police moved in yesterday to evict protesters who have camped outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster for over a decade.
The protest began in 2001 with peace campaigners including the late Brian Haw setting up tents and erecting banners against the UK's involvement in the Iraq war. In May 2010 they set up 'Democracy Village' on the green opposite the Palace of Westminster.
Last July the Greater London Authority moved in to evict the protesters from the grass, but many stayed on, moving their tents onto the wide pavement around the square.
The law was changed last year, with an amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill which specifically outlawed "any tent or any other structure that is designed, or adapted... for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying in" being erected in or around Parliament Square. That Bill received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011.
Police moved in to enforce the new law yesterday evening at 7:30pm, accompanied by marked Westminster Council vans in which they were able to put all camping equipment. Protesters were still being moved on at 10pm.
Police feared initially that the move might spark a wider protest involving the 'Occupy London' protesters currently wintering outside St Pauls. However, as of late last night there was no evidence of a counter-move and by all accounts the eviction has gone smoothly.
The new law imposes a maximum £500 fine on anybody who breaches its terms.
The leader of City of Westminster Council Colin Barrow welcomed the move.
"For too long local people and tourists have been unable to fully enjoy the square," he said.
"This is a tragedy and the sooner this historic site can be enjoyed by the public, the better. The police action follows the clear will of the people, expressed through Parliament, to remove this encampment," he added.
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