Hackney Downs anti-vax campaigners move to Brighton
Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Supplied LDR
Hackney Council’s bid to extend a ban on anti-vaccination protesters from the borough’s open spaces until autumn next year has been rejected by a judge because there was no evidence they would come back.
The campaigners arrived in Hackney in July and set up an encampment of up to 24 people on Hackney Downs.
They had been moved from Shepherd’s Bush Green in west London in June after Hammersmith and Fulham Council took them to court.
The following month a camp of up to 63 tents was evicted from Clapham Common after Wandsworth took legal action.
Campaigners arrived at Hackney Downs in July. At first there were 11 tents and 20 people and it grew to an encampment of 24, according to court papers.
Hackney Council estimates legal fees and the clean-up will cost it between £24,000 and £50,000.
The day after the protesters pitched up, campaigner Caul Grant of the Campaign for Truth and Justice sent an email to the council citing the Magna Carta and the Human Rights Act.
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It read: “The area of land, here in Hackney Downs, currently occupied by the Lovedown Campaigners has been lawfully seized by Campaign for Truth and Justice as partial remedy for the ongoing violation of the law committed by the Judiciary and other branches of the State.
“Any attempt to enter the above property without an invitation will carry serious consequences and could result in injury to the person.”
The council had complaints about “the message which the members of the encampment wished to convey, but others concerned noise, litter, the smoke and the risk from fires lit in the encampment, the smell of cannabis and the loss to the public of the opportunity to use that part of Hackney Downs occupied by the encampment”, according to the court judgement.
The council also said it needed more resources to deal with litter and there were placards stuck into the ground and bunting and banners were hung from the trees.
Resident Dave Owen said: “It isn’t legal to camp on Hackney Downs – anyone else doing this would be prevented. Why were they allowed to stay for weeks, spreading their propaganda of death for all?”
He added: “I have lived around the Downs for 40 years. In all that time nothing like this has been allowed to happen. I did not approach the camp as I was worried about being infected, and by the response there might be – it just seemed too risky, so I’m furious that the authorities took so long to act.”
The council won its case to get the campaigners evicted in the High Court in August.
The interim order banned any similar camps until the end of September anywhere in Hackney.
It said: “The presence of people at these gatherings represents a risk to public health as well as to the environment.”
Council lawyers said it also “constitutes a public nuisance”.
However, the Town Hall’s request to extend a ban on an encampment on any open space in Hackney until September 2022 was rejected by the High Court this month.
According to the court, the defendants have set up camp in Brighton instead.
Grant and fellow campaigner Namaste told the judge they had a right to protest and that their occupation of part of Hackney Downs was lawful but their argument was rejected.
Mr Justice Lavender said: “An excess of litter, or the tying of bunting to trees, might have caused annoyance, but I doubt whether they caused harassment, alarm or distress.”
He said he did not think it was “just and convenient to grant an injunction for the purpose of preventing the defendants from engaging in antisocial behaviour”.
He said there was no evidence the campaigners were in Hackney and they did not occupy another park when they were evicted from Hackney Downs.
He added that there was also no evidence that they would return to the borough if evicted from their camp in Brighton.
Hackney has seen an overall drop in cases since July, according to official figures, though there was a slight increase in the week ending September 28, from 359 cases the previous week to 448.
As of October 3, 59 per cent of Hackney's population have been vaccinated.