On Wednesday, police illegally evicted protesters from a council house that Camden Housing Action Group were occupying in protest at its sell-off and the wider sell-off of council housing. The occupation was also a challenge to the recent law that criminalises squatting in abandoned residential buildings (section 144 of Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). Read the statement from the group here.
The occupation began on Monday of this week and police visited early that morning, but left after 5 minutes. On Wednesday the police returned, broke down the door and arrested, and later charged, two people under section 144 of LASPO.
A notice on the door and the protestors themselves informed the police that they could not evict the occupation as it does not fall under section 144. The law makes it a criminal offence if a person in an abandoned residential building “is living or intends to live there for any period”. A protest occupation, where the protesters are occupying the building in shifts and living at other addresses clearly does not amount to ‘living’ in the building, therefore the eviction and arrests are illegal. A protest occupation of a Southwark council house last year saw the protestors argue successfully with the police that section 144 did not apply and instead Southwark council took out a possession order against the protestors. In another case, a judge ruled that in order for police to prove that someone is living in a residential they must provide evidence including:
1 Observation (ie evidence that the person was using the squat)
2 Forensics (ie examining food, clothing, letters in the squat to establish the person was linked to the squat)
3 Detailed interviews (eg neighbours confirming)
4 The normal requirements of residence (eg bills in the name of the person to that address)
It is highly unlikely that the police will be able to produce any of the above evidence for the protest occupation.
As well as criminalising homeless people, section 144 of LASPO is being used here by Camden council and the police to crush local protest.
The protestors will be at Highbury Corner Magistrates court on Friday 28th March. Join us at court to show your support and your belief in the right to protest and housing for all! Facebook event coming soon!