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St Paul's row: Giles Fraser resigns

19 October 2011

by Ed Thornton

THE Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Revd Dr Giles Fraser, resigned today.

The move came after the cathedral Chapter agreed to support legal steps to remove the protesters from in front of St Paul’s, though this decision has yet to be made public. The only official cathedral statement on the matter was released on Wednesday: “We have been and continue to take legal advice on a range of options including court action. Chapter very much hopes that we will achieve a peaceful solution.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., Canon Fraser, who was appointed in June 2009, posted a message on Twitter: “It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St Paul’s Cathedral.” A statement then appeared on the St Paul’s website to the same effect.

In a further statement to The Guardian, Dr Fraser said: “I resigned because I believe that the Chapter has set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the Church.”

On Wednesday, the City of London Corporation issued a statement saying that it was seeking “the full range of options — including court action” to clear campers from the highways around the cathedral.

The Corporation, which is the Highways Authority for the Square Mile, said that it had called a “special meeting” of its Planning and Transportation Committee for today, “to hear legal advice and decide whether and, if so, how to take legal action to clear the highways around St Paul’s of campers”. It is assumed that the Corporation defines as a highway the open area in front of St Paul’s, jointly owned with the Cathedral.

The chairman of the City of London Corporation’s policy and resources committee, Stuart Fraser, said: “We hope common sense will prevail, and those camping around the Cathedral will recognise that they are damaging the integrity of their protest by their actions — and they decide to disperse in a peaceful manner. But if not, we are looking at making sure we have the full range of options — including court action — ready to hand.”

It is understood that the Chapter agreed on Wednesday afternoon to support this action.

The Dean, the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles said of Dr Fraser this morning: “Giles has brought a unique contribution to the life and ministry of St Paul’s and we will be very sorry to see him go. He has developed the work of the St Paul’s Institute and has raised the profile of our work in the City.

“We are obviously disappointed that he is not able to continue to his work with Chapter during these challenging days. We will miss his humour and humanity and wish Giles and his family every good wish into the future.”

Occupy London, organisers of the protest camp outside St Paul’s, said: “We are deeply moved to hear that Giles Fraser has resigned. He is a man of great personal integrity, and our thoughts are with him.”

The resignation coincided with news that the cathedral planned to reopen tomorrow. Late on Wednesday, Dean Knowles said that he was “optimistic” that the Cathedral would be open by tomorrow afternoon.

“The staff team here have been working flat out with the police, fire brigade, and health-and-safety officers to try to ensure that we have confidence in the safety of our worshippers, visitors and staff which will allow us to reopen. . .

“A passageway allowing evacuation procedures to be improved has been created; the kitchen providing food for those in the camp has been moved from close proximity to the building; bicycles chained to the railings have been shifted and a clear pathway restored.”

Dean Knowles said that a final decision would be reached today. “We will revisit the risk assessment in the light of any overnight developments and subject to us getting the green light we hope to reopen in time for the 12.30 eucharist on Friday, to which everyone is welcome.”

Rumours began to circulate on Wednesday afternoon that St Paul’s was planning to reopen. A BBC reporter, Paraic O’Brien, wrote on Twitter that “someone from St Paul’s works department” had told him that “the intention is to reopen St Paul’s by the weekend”. He said that tents were being moved “to facilitate opening of St Paul’s cafe and ultimately [the] cathedral by [the] weekend”.

A handwritten notice appeared asking fellow protesters to move their tents “coz the church is opening it’s doors”.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard  Chartres, said in a statement: “The time has come for the protesters to leave, before the camp’s presence threatens to eclipse entirely the issues that it was set up to address.”

The cathedral was closed last Friday after advice from a health and safety official. The Dean said that it gave the Chapter “no lawful alternative but to close St Paul’s Cathedral until further notice”. A spokeswoman said on Wednesday that it would not be publishing the advice. She declined to give a reason for the decision.

The cathedral did, however, release a list of “safety concerns”, which included the “presence of unknown quantities of flammable liquids” and public-health issues such as “food hygiene” and “sanitation”.

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, the Dean said that the decision to close had “nothing at all to do with the fall in takings”, said to be £16,000 a day, caused by the presence of the protesters. “It is about health, safety, and fire issues.” He said that the Chapter had “no control over the grounds” sur­rounding the cathedral; he said that the “ownership of land around St Paul’s is not a clear issue” and that there was a “combination of owner­ship” between the Cathedral and the Corporation of London.

He said that members of the Chapter were “at one” on the decision to close the Cathedral. On Saturday, the St Paul’s website carried a statement by Canon Fraser saying that, “given the strong advice that we have received that the camp is making the cathedral and its occupants unsafe”, the “right of people peacefully to protest . . . has to be balanced against other rights and responsibilities”.

Occupy London responded that they had “completely reorganised the camp in response to feedback from the Fire Brigade”, and that the Fire Brigade “have not issued any new requirements above and beyond those already communicated directly to the camp”.

A “Flash Evensong” took place outside the cathedral on Wednesday. Alerted by a website, worshippers brought copies of the Book of Common Prayer and The English Hymnal. Worshippers avoided the steps in order “not to be confrontational”. Canon Fraser attended.

Sixty-five per cent of 339 Church Times readers who voted in an online poll said that they thought St Paul’s had been “wise to welcome the capitalism protesters”.

See tomorrow’s Church Times for leader comment, Paul Vallely, and Giles Fraser’s column (written before the resignation).

Leader comment

Was St Paul’s wise to welcome the capitalism protesters? Vote here

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