Dear Telegraph…

The following post is by Rueben Taylor, a campaigner with SQUASH.

As we all know and we’ve been exploring a little on this blog, many newspapers are riddled with inaccuracies and distortions about squatting. The Telegraph has been particularly manipulative in this regard, spewing a concerted campaign of mistruths as part of their plan to Stop the Squatters – to ensure empty buildings remain empty and the poor remain on the streets.

tom whitehead Spearheading much of their coverage has been scaremonger-in-chief Tom Whitehead, the Home Affairs editor. Unfortunately, Tom does have rather a tendency to make mistakes or to misinterpret the facts (read about his coverage of immigration – for which he was awarded the “Tabloid Bullshit of the Month Award” in April – of squatting, and of penal issues).

We don’t like to take things to personally, or to jump to conclusions, but it does feel rather like Tom’s got it in for squatters (alongside various other not-so-well-off groups, of course). A.S.S recently popped Tom a line to bring some of his more straightforward legal errors to his attention, so that he might amend or withdraw them. Strangely, he hasn’t got back to them…

Dear Mr Whitehead,

We write in response to glaring factual inaccuracies in your piece of Wednesday 13th July for the Daily Telegraph entitled “Squatters to face prison under plans for new offence”. Your article states repeatedly that squatters get Legal Aid “to fight eviction”. This is not true. It is not possible to get Legal Aid in defence of possession proceedings in cases where claims have been made on grounds of ‘trespass’. In previous inaccurate reporting on the subject what has actually happened is that squatters got free legal advice or the duty solicitor at the county court. This is extremely rare and it is not Legal Aid.

Ironically however, if squatting were to be made a criminal offence then those whom the CPS chose to prosecute may in fact be eligible for criminal Legal Aid. The article also states that “currently only home owners are allowed to force their way back in to their homes”. This is not true. Displaced residential occupiers and protected intending occupiers have the right to use reasonable force if the squatters refuse to leave when asked (S7 and 12a Criminal Law Act 1977). However, owning a property, whether residential or not, does not give anyone the right to force entry to premises they know are occupied by those they consider to be trespassers. Such inaccurate reporting is likely to contribute to the number of illegal evictions and legal confusion around the issue of squatting.

We hope these comments are illuminating for you and we look forward to reading your reply.

Anna Jennings ASS Collective