Police tore down the anti-capitalist camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London early Tuesday, arresting 20 people as they brought a swift end to the last major Occupy protest around the world.
Dozens of police officers and bailiffs moved in shortly after midnight Monday and within hours the encampment, which sprung up in October in support of similar actions in the United States and Spain, was cleared.
But the protesters vowed to continue, saying: “This is only the beginning.”
Fifty to 60 activists were present when the authorities arrived to enforce a High Court-ordered eviction, and a lone piper heralded the camp’s demise.
The City of London Corporation had urged activists to dismantle their tents peacefully but some people hastily erected barriers of wooden pallets and let off smoke bombs in an attempt to stall the clearance operation.
A handful of protesters were reported to have handcuffed themselves to a makeshift wooden structure on the edge of the camp, but the rest of the site was reduced to a pile of old mattresses and tents within two hours.
Stuart Fraser, a spokesman for the Corporation, the local authority, said in a statement: “It is regrettable that it had to come to the need for removal but the High Court judgment speaks for itself.
“The site has now been cleared and the area is undergoing a deep clean.
“Some areas of the site may be cordoned off during this cleaning but we will complete the work as quickly as possible, in order to return the site to its regular use.”
City of London Police said the operation had been “largely peaceful”, adding: “A small minority of protesters obstructed the work of bailiffs. Police made 20 arrests as of 4.30 am (0430 GMT).”
The Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest began outside St Paul’s Cathedral, in the heart of the capital’s financial district, on October 15 as part of a global movement against the excesses of capitalism.
But there had been an air of resignation within the camp since the Court of Appeal on Wednesday dismissed the protesters’ application for permission to challenge last month’s High Court ruling that they must disband.
The London clearance followed the forcible eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York two months ago, and a dawn raid against a camp at McPherson Square in Washington, DC, in early February.
Occupy London vowed the action would not stop their movement.
“This morning, the City of London Corporation and St Paul’s Cathedral have dismantled a camp and displaced a small community, but they will not derail a movement,” the group said in a statement.
They paid tribute to “a makeshift, loosely cooperative, occasionally quarrelling and fiercely idealistic group of people who came together to achieve something extraordinary”, and warned of more action to come in May.
The City of London Corporation vowed to find appropriate accommodation for any vulnerable people camped at the site, which had attracted people with addiction and mental health problems over the past few months.
The authority started legal action against the camp in November, arguing it had attracted crime, harmed local trade and inconvenienced worshippers.
The protest also caused divisions within the cathedral itself.
The head of St Paul’s, Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, resigned in October rather than see the activists forcibly removed, after the camp caused the cathedral to be closed for the first time in modern times.
The cathedral authorities expressed regret that the camp had had to be cleared, but said they would “promote” the issues of social justice that the protesters had raised.
“In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play,” a statement from St Paul’s said.
“We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs but we are fully committed to continuing to promote these issues through our worship, teaching and Institute.”
The cathedral authorities said an area in front of the cathedral had been cordoned off to allow paving to be repaired.