Mass arrests at Squatters Homelessness Protest ‘undermine democracy’

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Mass arrests at Squatters Homelessness Protest ‘undermine democracy’

Late last night police arrested homelessness protesters for attempting to sleep outside Parliament against government plans to criminalise squatting. Hundreds of police were deployed to kettle a ‘mass sleep out’ against a proposed late amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to be voted on today, that would criminalise squatting in residential buildings.

After a critical mass bike ride protesters attempted to sleep out on Parliament Green but were surrounded and ordered to disperse under SOCPA. The controversial act – currently being repealed – was used to prevent the protest, and to make a number of arrests after “kettling” it. The kettle included a number of journalists and legal observers.

Campaigners from Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) had accused the government of ‘bypassing democracy’ by sneaking the amendment through parliament after 96% of consultation responses argued for no change in the existing law. Tonight campaigners claim that the basic right to protest against being homeless is being undermined by the police’s actions.

Last night In Manchester, 20 people slept outside the BBC on Oxford Road to oppose the new legislation.

Reuben Taylor from SQUASH said after getting out of the kettle:

’96% of respondents to consultation said no to the criminalisation of squatting. Before the results were published an amendment was slipped into an unrelated bill with little debate. When the 96% come to protest, they kettle and arrest them. Democracy is no longer just being bypassed its being totally disregarded.’

She added:

‘SOCPA says you have to register a protest 7 days in advance but a week ago today they hadn’t even announced the amendment.’

ENDS

For more information and interviews please contact:

SQUASH media phone – 07415 516 105 or press@squashcampaign.org Follow SQUASH on Twitter for updates: @squash_campaign #StopClause26 Photos can be used from the SQUASH Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/groups/squashmedia/

Notes to Editors

SQUASH was founded in the early 90′s; the last time the Tories tried to criminalise squatting. SQUASH re-formed in the face of the latest threat to squatting.

A series of last minute events are planned today:

  • 9am – Gather outside Westminster Housing Options Service, 101 Orchardson Street NW8 Workshop on how to register homeless by The Simon Community
  • 12noon – Gather outside Parliament – Rally to show opposition and workshop on how to lobby your MP by Squash Campaign on the law concerning squatting as it stands and of the impacts New Clause 26 would involve by Housing Lawyer
  • 3pm – Squash has booked a room in Parliament for you to meet your MP in, where they can be briefed fully on why to oppose the criminalisation of squatting. To arrange this, call your MP asap requesting a face to face meet up in Committee Room 20 in the House of Commons from 3pm – 5pm.
  • 5pm – Critical mass bicycle ride in support of squatting around central London with soundsystem – meet under Waterloo Bridge, Southbank

Link to the Governments response to the consultation (Of a total of 2217 responses, 2126 were from people concerned about the impact of criminalising squatting): http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/dealing-with-squatters.htm

A new report done by Homeless charity Crisis highlights the link between squatting and homelessness: http://www.crisis.org.uk/publications-search.php?fullitem=327

A letter signed by 160 leading legal figures and printed in The Guardian highlighted how the Government are misrepresenting the law on squatting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/sep/25/squatting-law-media-politicians

There are 700,000 empty properties across the UK: From 2009 Empty Homes Figures: http://www.emptyhomes.com/usefulresources/stats/statistics.html