Protest group occupies churchyard in Prittlewell

A protest group has set up camp in a village churchyard in Essex.

Tents were pitched without permission at St Mary the Virgin church in Prittlewell near Southend on Sunday.

Neil Starky, of a group calling itself Occupy Southend, said 30 people were involved. He added: "We're in it for the long-haul."

The Diocese of Chelmsford asked them to be sensitive to local residents as they were in a churchyard but said they wanted to hear what they had to say.

Mr Starky said numbers would rise and fall as the protest went on.

"We're not encouraging individuals to stay for too long because of the cold weather but, as a group, we have a plan to be here until summer," he said.

Important questions

"We are all from Southend and we struggled to find anywhere else locally to go - if we had set up in a public highway we would have been moved on by police.

"We are not camping on any graves and we have sectioned off areas where people are buried or where ashes have been scattered, so we don't encroach on that."

Mr Starky said that if the group was asked to move on, it would be put to a vote.

In a statement, the Diocese of Chelmsford said: "The Occupy movement has been raising important questions about the sort of society people want to live in.

"We do want to listen to what they have to say.

"We ask them to be mindful of the fact that they are in a churchyard and to be sensitive to people's feelings."

Police and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council said it was up to the church to decide whether to take action to clear the site.

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