Church closes Highgate path over 'antisocial behaviour and assault'

Children at the closed gate of St Joseph's Church in Highgate

Children at the closed gate of St Joseph's Church in Highgate - Credit: Polly Hancock

Walkers and parents are calling for a church to reopen a shortcut between Highgate Hill and Dartmouth Park Hill, after it closed it off because safety fears. 

Last year, priests at St Joseph's Church took the decision to lock a gate which had been used for decades to access the adjacent St Joseph's School and other pedestrians. 

Father Tiernan Doherty said it was a decision taken in response to police and insurance company advice after antisocial behaviour, petty crime, harassment and an assault against him on the premises.

In a letter to people concerned about the closure, he said that after the death of Sarah Everard he would "never get over an attack on a child, woman or man on our property if it was due to my failure to heed the guidance of police, our insurance people and our Father General in Rome".

Parents and walkers stuck behind the locked gates at St Joseph's Church, Highgate

The gate from St Joseph's Church onto Highgate Hill has been locked, preventing pedestrians including school children, parents with buggies, and those with a disability from being able to use the cut through from Dartmouth Park Hill - Credit: Polly Hancock

Highgate woman Jenny Beddington said: "We've been very upset, having used the path for years, though we are sympathetic to what the priests have been through. But they are not interested in the community at all."

Father Tiernan said after intruders had repeatedly caused damage to church property, its insurance premiums had been impacted. 

He said: "We are a monastery and these are our monastery gardens. We have had to deal with insurance premiums rising in the thousands and the club has also had to pay a very high increase in its insurance premiums."

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But neighbours have called on the church to find a compromise, and it is understood that members of the community have proposed several options. No compromise has yet been agreed.

Some of the campaigners believe the path may even be a public right of way and are exploring legal options with the Ramblers' Association. 

Islington's Cllr Janet Burgess has been trying to find a solution to the dispute.

She told the Ham&High: "I have been trying to reach a solution that would be satisfactory to each side, but unfortunately without success. Clearly the path was wonderful."

Writer Harriet Lane, said a lack of engagement from the church was "perplexing", especially as "the community has come up with several constructive proposals to address the priests’ anxieties".

She said she had hoped to see some "generosity of spirit", given the pandemic, and said locking the gate made it harder for people with disabilities to get around.