Occupy movement alumni, and members of the local community who have filled Friern Barnet library shelves with 8,000 books, have been handed a six-week stay of execution before eviction.
Those who have occupied a north London library for more than three months with the blessing of the local community are to be evicted, a judge has ruled. However, the court recognised their right to protest and the occupants have been given a six-week stay of execution before they will be moved on.
Both Barnet council, which owns the library, and the occupants, who have acted as librarians since taking over the building on 5 September, are hailing the judgment on Tuesday at Barnet county court as a significant victory.
“This is a victory for the library campaigners,” said Pete Phoenix, a member of the Occupy movement. “The judge has recognised the right to protest in buildings closed down due to local authority cuts.”
The leader of Barnet council, Richard Cornelius, said: “I am obviously delighted by this verdict. The council has always made it clear that we are keen to support a community run library in Friern Barnet with local residents. Now this case is over, we will sit down again with local residents and discuss how we can help to create just that.”
The council closed the library in April and cleared the shelves of books in preparation for selling off the site. Residents and some councillors had been campaigning since 2009 to prevent the planned closure, but after the arrival of the new occupants the campaign took a new turn.
The tenants-cum-librarians attracted international media coverage after they restocked shelves with more than 8,000 books donated by local people and claimed to have doubled the number of visitors. They have been running the library in partnership with Barnet residents. As well as the loan of books a variety of children’s events, music evenings, yoga, Pilates and a book signing with Will Self have been on offer.
District judge Patricia Pearl praised the way the squatters and residents have been running the library. “There is no suggestion that this is anything other than a happy, pleasant, well-run place,” she said. “The local community is delighted with the effects Mr Phoenix has had on their campaign.”
She recognised the right of the protesters to freedom of expression and assembly and acknowledged that to remove the campaigners from the premises would infringe those human rights. However, Pearl added that it was necessary to remove them to allow the council to engage with a bidding process for the library’s future.
“Removal of the protesters only limits their right to protest in the building. It does not fetter their right to protest entirely,” she said.
Ugo Hayter of Leigh Day & Co solicitors said: “This is a significant case. It’s very important that the judge recognised the community library campaigners’ right to protest was protected.”
The library protest has been a significant departure from previous squatting and Occupy actions because of the extent to which the protesters have been supported by the local community. Among those giving evidence on behalf of the demonstrators were a psychotherapist and a retired accountant.
The council may not see the back of the protesters for a while because they hope to have the judgment revoked at the court of appeal. In the more immediate future the library campaigners are now planning a full timetable of events for the next six weeks including a “Bring a Dish” get-together on Christmas Day. It is likely to be the only library in the UK open that day.