SQUASH NewsRound: April – June 2013

The NewsRound is be a monthly post, keeping tabs on articles being posted in MainStream Media (MSM) sources, as well as independent channels (eg IMC, SchNEWS) about squatting, the new law (s.144) and possible new legislation (eg commercial). If you spot any articles of interest, please let us know by emailing: info@squashcampaign.org. Disclaimer: All views expressed in this blog are that of the compiler and not necessarily that of SQUASH.

For Period: April to June 2013

Dedicated to: The brave squatters who broke and braved the Stop G8 Convergence Centre in the West End on 11th June, in the face of psycho-Met goon-squad overkill; read more here

Weatherley-be Further Criminalisation….

Weth nose

The usual suspects are at it again, calling for an extension of the criminalisation of squatting to commercial premises to protect vulnerable landlords and infirm councils (aaaw, poor things). Signs show that the build-up to further criminalisation has been set in motion no doubt the product of Weatherley’s lobbying and secret meetings at the highest level (along with a bit of tasty bit cash from his sponsors), which is seeing the Ministry of (In)Justice changing its position from neutral to “ready to criminalise”, with (In)Justice Secretary Chris Grayling: “For too long squatters have played the justice system and caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs.” (change the record Chris, we all know that’s a load of bollocks). And it looks like our old nemisis, the Russian oligarch’s paper for London, the Evening Standard is gearing up again for a smear campaign (hello chaps!) which this little ditty: ”Minister urged to make it illegal for squatters to occupy offices and pubs “ [9th May]. This article has mirrored somewhat (in what has ingeniously been termed “churnalism”…geddit) by the law firm Pinset Masons, who represent the big utility companies (EDF) and universities and who wrote into the initial consultation on behalf of their clients calling for commercial to be criminalised too so that they had another sanction to use against pesky protesters; check them out: “Government “gathering evidence” on impact of squatting on commercial property”

(In)Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s latest crap statement reading: “Since we criminalised squatting in September last year the police have been working alongside other agencies taking quick and decisive action to protect homeowners across the country….” Who exactly are these “other agencies”? Property developers, wealthy landowners, housing associations (L&Q), estate agents, security companies? Funny that, only a few months ago, when SQUASH was trying to put together statistics for the 6-month report, there was no data to be found; now suddenly, not only the Met Police, but the MoJ have been “monitoring the situation carefully”. The MoJ’s stats can be found on Page 72 of the Criminal Justice Statistics to December 2012 ; the statistics are as follows for the period 1st September to 30th December 2012: 38 defendants were proceeded against at magistrates’ courts for this offence of which, 32 “offenders” were found guilty of and sentenced for the “offence” at all courts. Of these “offenders”: 14 were issued a fine; 10 were given a conditional discharge; five were given a community sentence; one was sentenced to immediate custody; two were “otherwise dealt with” (what does that mean? Sounds concerning). SQUASH will be investigating and analysing these figures further…

Of course Weatherly is on the rampage with his latest tirade to the only newspaper that will publish to the shit that comes out his mouth, the faithful Argus (”Hove MP urges Prime Minister to extend new squatting law” [2 May 2013]). He states: “The new law criminalising squatting in residential properties has been a fantastic deterrent against these bone idol [sic] layabouts.” Meanwhile simpering MP Tracey Crouch has been putting questions about the extension of criminalisation to commercial to the Secretary of State; read the scintillating discussion here: Oral Answers to Questions – Justice: Topical Questions (21 May 2013). SQUASH believe that there are already movements behind the scenes to start working on the process and that this time there won’t be a consultation, instead it will be tacked onto some of the upcoming legislation to be discussed soon in the House of Commons. The consultation was too damning last time round (96% against criminalisation), with some amazing responses from a wide range of groups and people; unfortunately, since the MoJ is still stuck in Victorian times, they have no electronic copies and the responses fill 5 big paper folders. Therefore to save embarrassment for the government, it looks like stealth is the current tactic; keep posted.

Open House: Housing for All

open house

The Open House Event during the 12th – 19th May was a big success, bringing together squatters, private tenants, council tenants, anti-gentrification campaigners and many others to discuss tactics and strategies for stopping the wholesale sell-off of London and exploitation by dodgy landlords, estate agents, housing associations and other greedy gannets. The nine-day event was held in an occupied autonomous space and hosted a wide range of events and speakers dealing with Housing, Access to Land and Right to the City (aka gentrification), all for free. The event was an attempt to bridge the gap between the different types of tenure by addressing the common need, ie affordable, decent and safe housing in London. Well done all those who helped to put the event together. To see what happened and the types of events held there, check out their website Open House 2013 .

Funnily enough, on the same day as the opening of the Open House, the Unite (the trade union) had an almost identical conference called “No Evictions! Campaigning and Protest in the Context of the Housing Crisis” at the swanky Rich Mix in Snoreditch; coincidence? Dunno, but they might have shown a little solidarity, or is “squatting” a little too radical for one of Britain’s biggest trade unions? Another lovely piece of opportunism comes from The Sheriffs Office (read, bailiffs), who thought this would be a great opportunity to scare absentee landlords shitless with the thought that one of their empty buildings might be used by “political squatters” to show films and do talks (OMG! Noooooooo….!). They mention Open House 2013 directly, as well as Occupy at St Pauls, Hastings Bypass protest, Eileen House, etc; of course they recommend that guards, dogs, CCTV, property guardians be used to stop what the author describes as “utter devastation” (intellectually perhaps…). As Open House went in search of a venue, the author leaves the reader with the chilling statement: “are there any properties in your portfolio that might be on their list?” (brrrrr….)

Let Down Housing Demos

monopoly

As more and more people are getting squeezed by dodgy landlords (which is just about all of them) and sleazy estate agents (ditto) in the private rented sector, so tenants have started to take direct action to highlight the plight of rip-off rents & fees, poor maintenance and outright abuse through Let Down actions. On the 27th April, there was a London-wide action which saw tenants visiting estate agents acting as independent Community Housing Inspectors, holding a complaints choir and playing Housing Crisis Monopoly outside (little known fact: Monopoly was initially created as a game to show how property ownership concentrated into fewer and fewer hands). Check out the Let Down site for pics and write-up of these hilarious actions about a not-so-hilarious issue.

Lo and behold, the mainstream press picked up the story of the demonstration outside the Brixton offices of Fuckstons – the estate agents – , painting the campaigners as “vandals” and “violent” and providing some free advertising for Foxtons with “its modernistic decor, fleet of branded Minis and deliberately informal atmosphere” (more like coke-sniffing, arrogant numpties cashing in on the community). Check out these fantastic articles from the soft fascist publication, the Daily Mail “Brixton Foxtons hires bouncers after protests from residents claiming they are priced out of the area by ‘yuppies’”, while the Torygraph “Estate agent hires private security as campaigners protest against letting fees” puts in a half-decent article, with some of its content copied straight out of the Brixton Blog post ”Brixton branch of Foxtons hires bouncers for rents protest”. Inside Housing briefly covers the demo in Islington with the racy title ”PRS tenants protest against unfair fees” (you are not a person, you are an acronym), which sparks comments from someone called “Realist” (blurgh) that would impress any multiple-homeowning dinner party gathering (“pass the vino darling, lets fuck another tenant over and call it the market”). However, no demonstration outside an estate agent’s office would be complete without a mention in the prestigious Letting Agent Today in their surprisingly comprehensive article with shocking title “Protesters target letting agents in angry demonstrations”; you’d be angry too if your deposit and letting fee had just been pissed up the wall by a coked-up harlot. Of course, the most reliable and bestest source of information of the way people conducted themselves is a short video of the “angry” and “violent” demonstrations from Haringey Housing Action . Well done all round!

Of course, the criminalisation of squatting is part move a much bigger push to criminalise protest outright, such as the “Secret Courts” legislation passed on the night SQUASH launched its report in Parliament and the recent criminal legal aid cuts, which are challenged by groups like Defend the Right to Protest and Plane Stupid” being which brought together a protest at the Ministry of (In)Justice. It should be remembered that attempts to criminalise squatting through the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) in the 1990’s was an open attempt to kill off the protest movement at the time, that came in the form of the anti-roads campaigns, hunting saboteurs, rave scene, etc. So like any good Tories, they’re at it once again, criminalising dissent for their one-party state.

Attacks on the Homeless

asleep

Two (possibly) unrelated attacks on the homeless (rough sleepers) have taken place in London, the first by the police and the second by a gang of thugs, in both cases the victims were Eastern European, and the attacks senseless and pointless (like who in their right mind would make a rough sleeper’s life worse?); don’t forget, one of the arrests and imprisonment in the last 8 months under LASPO was an Eastern European rough sleeper, Michael Minorczyk, who was “skippering” (sleeping in an abandoned house for the night without securing it) when he was arrested (See SQUASH Newsround Mid-January 2013). This highlights two worrying trends: first, that as has been predicted by housing academics like Danny Dorling, the homeless are becoming more systematically victimised and secondly, that as squatting becomes more precarious, even more of people will have to face these intolerable conditions.

The story comes from the Ilford Recorder’s “Police swoop on the homeless taking sleeping bags and food parcels in co-ordinated raids in Redbridge” describes how the Met police have been undertaking organised operations to harrass and make life difficult for rough sleepers and the homeless; the case in Ilford (London fringes) a group of Eastern European were surrounded by police and their donated sleeping bags and possessions taken off of them by the police. Adam Jaskowiak, one of the men targeted, said he pleaded with police to be able to keep his things but was ignored. All of their belongings were bundled into a police car leaving the men without anything. Mr Jaskowiak, 34, said: “They were just taking the sleeping bags and chucking out everything. I asked to keep it and the food, but they said ‘no’.” Chief executive Rita Chadha of Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London said: “I am appalled because there’s no logic in this – it’s not as though if they take someone’s sleeping bag they will automatically walk into a house. “It’s not a lifestyle choice and becoming homeless can happen to anyone.” A police chief told the Recorder the operation was carried out to “reduce the negative impact of rough sleepers”.

The second story comes from a shout-out, that reads as follows: “It has came to our attention that Rough Sleepers are currently being attacked in Central London by a gang of three men on a nightly basis. We urgently appeal that this information is spread far and wide to those associated with our streets in London. There have been at least 10 attacks that we are aware of in the last week. In all attacks the rough sleepers were alone and asleep at the time. The severe beatings have lasted a few minutes and the peoples meagre personal possessions: Phones, ID, passports and belongings have also been stolen. Due to the nature of people having to find sleeping spots off the beaten track there have been few witnesses. The ‘gang’ consists of three white men in their late 20’s – early thirties and appear to be targeting mainly East European homeless Folk. This is significant as the attackers may be aware that those new to the country are less likely to get the authorities involved due to justified mistrust. Violence sadly is part and parcel of the real everyday risks that exist for those who find themselves homeless. This current organised escalation in violence is a very worrying trend and we need to make our homeless community aware and do whatever we can to prevent these attacks. On one night alone we know of 3 separate attacks carried out by this gang. For any further information please contact: jon.glackin@streetsrevolution.com

Meanwhile a number of homeless communities have started to take matters into their own hands, taking over empty pieces of land and warehouses to house themselves and collectivise in order to ward off unwelcome intrusions, such as police harassment and right-wing thugs. Take this article from the Daily Hate “Shanty town on a suburban London street: Romanians scrape a living amid squalor of dump” [8 June 2013] which is using its usual recipe of scaremongering to build up both racial hatred and prejudice against the homeless, their insidious connotations being that Romanians will turn London into a massive slum and bring down house prices. The article covers the now fairly well-known site in North London, once the home of the Hendon Football Club stadium demolished several years ago and left to become a flytipping site. It has become the home of a Romanian community, living amongst the rubbish, and though they have offered to clean up the site, the rabid council have refused; they prefer the image of dirty Romanians invading London to a constructive dialogue. As in so much of London, councils are knocking down all sorts of wonderful buildings, leaving derelict sites for years on end as an enticement for developers to come in and build their formula shoe-boxes, generally called “luxury flats”. Now Boris – London’s clown Mayor – has said that the site will be put out to tender (read, gifted) to big property developers; as usual Boris’ proposals, like his housing policies, are about as flaccid as his wrinkly cock.

Meanwhile, homeless group, Crouch End Active Community, have taken over two empty council buildings which had been left rotting for two years; they took the buildings over to house themselves and now run activities like food recycling, gardening, juggling workshops and theatre performances from there. Liberal Democrat opposition in the Haringey Council have been frothing at the mouth, claiming that the council should knock the buildings down so that new luxury developments can be build there instead. Read more on This Is Local London’s (Not) “Crouch End Active Community occupy two Haringey Borough Council properties in Cranford Way Industrial Estate” [20th May 2013]

London Fire Brigade and Backdoor Eviction

nuclear dawn

It seems that the London Fire Brigade is becoming an agency for “back-door” evictions, turfing people out of their accommodation under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, turning a housing issue into one of “health and safety”. This flaccid article from the Guardian from 2012 “Firefighters are first to discover migrants sleeping on ‘beds in sheds'” [22 November 12] describes the “problem” of migrants and others sleeping in derelict buildings and the dangers of fires in these sorts of buildings; it shows a developing relationship between councils and the fire services to use regulation as means to move people onto the streets “for their own safety”.

This relationship has now developed into a fully-blown tactic. As short-life housing co-operatives are being turfed out by the London borough of Lambeth (who have dubbed themselves the “co-operative council”….like fuck) to make way for wealthier residents (Brixton Villaaage darling), Lambeth United – the Super Co-op is still fighting a losing battle to save the homes many have been living in for decades, and the upcoming eviction at Rushcroft Road in July. Now Lambeth Council have launched yet another stealth attack on an existing and long-term housing co-operative, Carlton Mansions, founded in 1979 and painted with the distinctive “Nuclear Dawn” mural. Using a surprise fire inspection, the Housing Department has turfed out the residents of the 16 flats, many having lived there for thirty years or more; oh, thanks Lambeth, being homeless is great, at least one is always safe on the streets. Check out the full article on the Brixton Blog’s “Housing co-op members forced from their homes after surprise fire inspection at Carlton Mansions, Brixton“. Yo Fire People! We Londoners have a great respect for the fire fighters of this city, but if you simply become another arm of the police state, you’ll not find our support when you need it, like the upcoming closure of fire stations across the capital. For god’s sake, show some solidarity and refuse to become lackies for corrupt London councils and agencies….

International Solidarity

Holland, once one of the most progressive countries for legislation dealing with squatting which allowed squatters to remain in a property left empty until the owner could prove that he/ she would be using it again. With its far-right Christian government now, the country has returned to a feudal tyranny, using the criminalisation of squatting there to launch two of its big multinational property guardian companies, yes you guessed it, Camelot and Ad Hoc. Now, the police crack down on squatters and protect guardian companies, so that at the eviction of the Ubica squat in Utrecht, eight of those arrested have been given 4-6 weeks in prison for their resistance; ABC – prisoner support group – have asked that if people want to send emails to these political prisoners you can write to them by email via ABC Utrecht: abc@ak-utrecht.nl for the attention of Denny, Aaron, Skinny, Rogier, Isa, Clyde, NN3, Michiel de Sieb. More info (in Dutch) HERE