SQUASH NewsRound: February to March 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.

Dedicated to: David Gauntlett, the homeless man who died of hypothermia outside an empty building; “your death will not be forgiven, nor your name forgot.” (R.I.P)

For the Period: 1st February – 1st April 2013

0] SQUASH Update:

report s144

SQUASH have been working hard to keep the issue of squatting criminalisation from being forgotten in the maelstrom of Tory attacks on the poor and marginalised. The recent report “The Case Against section 144” has been picked up by a few housing media outlets , such as Inside Housing’s ”Squatting law ‘sending homeless to prison’” [8 March] , the Guardian’s Letters Page (wow thanks) ”Anti-squatting law should be repealed” [25 March] , the Independent “Six months, no jail sentences: call for controversial squatter law to be axed” [24 March] , the New Internationalist’s “Squatting law is cause of problems, not a cure “ [12 March] and Open Democracy’s “MPs and lawyers get behind the campaign to repeal anti-squatting law in the UK” [3 April]. However, the media mood has been tepid at best what with Workfare, the Bedroom Tax and other important issues being raised by Tory class-war policies, squatting is a little too out-there for most media and NGO’s to care too much about. As with the original consultation (a real testament to people and groups seeing through the politicians’ and media lies and hype), SQUASH needs your help once again to prevent an extension of the law to commercial property and repealing the existing legislation:

EDM : An Early Day Motion has been tabled by John McDonnel (wording and progress can be found here ; we need your help in getting more MP’s to sign it and SQUASH have a generic template you can use to send too. We need to beat Mike Weatherley’s one – he’s got 24 signatories so far.

Petition: There is the petition calling for a repeal of section 144 of the LASPO Bill which effectively criminalises occupation of empty “residential” property (which can include empty hostels, nursing homes, etc) and has already seen a number of homeless and unemployed people jailed. Sign the Petition here . Another petition is that SPACE who are challenging Eric Pickles’ new law which hopes to allow property owners to convert commercial into residential without planning permission and therefore effectively criminalising squatting in commercial properties; see their petition : here .

Help: If you would like to contribute your help and expertise to SQUASH, which is run on voluntary labour and always under-resourced for the task of fighting the massive media and political onslaught on squatting, then please send an email to info[at]squashcampaign.org telling us: 1) What skills/ time you have to offer, 2) Why you would like to get involved.

1] Mike Weatherley Ltd: Open for Business

weatherley

Mike Weatherley, the man we all love to hate, the MP for Hove (actually), and the man who wangled the new law (s144 LASPO) to criminalise those occupying empty residential premises, is on top of the world. Having almost single-handedly brought in a controversial new law which significantly empowers landlords in relation to vulnerable tenants, leaving buildings empty and screwing the taxpayer, he is a hero in Whitehall and in the City; within a year, against the odds (consultation flopped, tagging the legislation onto something unrelated), he has done what politicians of all shades have been trying to do for decades, making adverse possession a criminal offence rather than a civil matter. Having worked at the coalface for the duration of the legislative process, SQUASH is amazed at what the Tories have got away with; more “done deal” than “due process”, complete dismissal of advice from all sides, from the police to lawyers and housing charities, and so little time for debate. So it was little surprise when SQUASH learnt of “corporate contributions” during the legislative process, with Weatherley receiving up to £150,000 in donations from various different property developers, such as Hambrook Estate Ltd and the Lewis Trust Group Ltd. See the work of investigative citizen journalist with Occupy “Property tycoons buy politicians to criminalise squatting” and an analysis of the Tory strategy for discrediting targeted groups (eg squatters, gypsies, migrants) in on the Occupy News Network “Analysis of Mr Weatherley MP’s Anti-squatting Vendetta”. And housing’s not the only area he’s cashing in on; it seems he has a connection with the intellectual property lobbyists and a number of other “sponsors” who no doubt see his influence in getting legislation through without too much scrutiny. This all smacks of the last Tory government and “Cash for Questions”, featuring the creepy Hamiltons, and after ten years of Labour, the Tories are cashing in on their turn at the trough of corporate largess, sucking the mammary glands of Mammon, just what Tories do best.

Next, Weatherley has just been appointed to the powerful House of Commons Justice Select Committee [“Mike Joins Justice Select Committee” [15th February 2013] ], which examines the expenditure, administration and policy of the Ministry of Justice (hmm….), with Mike slithering: “…just one of the important roles that MPs undertake in order to instil public confidence in our national institutions.” (hmmm…). So it’s no wonder the website IsMikeWeatherleyDeadYet.co.uk has appeared in response to Weatherley’s untouchability and moral (and financial?) corruption. In his most recent article appearance [”Anti-squatting MP to report web claim“ [The Argus, 6 March]], Weatherly when asked about the death of homeless man David Gauntlett, he completely avoids the question and launches into squatting with one his finest tyraids to date, calling squatters “political extremists whose vision for society is a dysfunctional medieval wasteland without property rights, where an Englishman’s castle is no longer his home” and “If squatters really cared about the homeless then they would help them access council services, not scare them into believing that they would be arrested”. All a bit rich from a man who happily takes money from corporate lobbyists, and was married to an ex-prostitute (according to the village gossip); it seems we may have slipped into some kind of time warp and re-entered the gloriously brutal Victorian era and its mantra of “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate”. Weatherley and his UKIP sensibilities seem to be on a role; if you have any information which might assist in derailing his flying political careerism, please let us know at info[at]squashcampaign.org .

2] Squatting the British Media

squat sign

Squatting is still being talked about in the British Press, with the Independent featuring Boyd Tonkin in “Boyd Tonkin: Squatting public property helped to save my first library. Don’t make it a crime” [The Independent, 08 February 2013] talking about the Friern Barnet Library occupation and Real News doing a short documentary piece on the serious implications of the new law for political occupations, and how criminalising squatting could backfire on the government’s plans to reduce its welfare budget (what reductions?): ” The End of Squatting in the UK? “ [The Real News (on youtube), 8 Feb 2013]. The Mirror’s Wynne-Jones covers the recent death of Daniel Gauntlett “Victim of cruel squatting law“ [3 April] but sadly the conclusion drawn is that reporting empty properties to the Empty Homes Agency is enough. Justice Gap have done a really good piece questioning the logic of the recent criminalisation ”On the wisdom of criminalising squatting in the midst of a housing crisis”, which quotes the SQUASH research doc “The Case Against s144”. Thanks for the support.

However more typical is the anti-squatting scare story, brought to you by none other than the Russian paper for London, the Evening Standard, carrying the opinions of its Russian oligarch owner, Lebidev, no doubt guided by the fact that he has a few empties of his own (and his Ruskie mates) and his right-wing opinions with that of his fellow Putin-lovies who racially despise the Slavic peoples. The Evening Standard has no doubt become a vehicle for the “cleansing” of undesirables from London, so that they can turn it into playpen for the super-rich as the New York Times article makes clear ”A Slice of London So Exclusive Even the Owners Are Visitors” [1 April]. The most recent article to appear from ES is “Romanians make up 45 per cent of squatters breaking new law” [22 March]; oh god! The Romanians are invading and we must criminalise all squatting immediately! The story is quite funny because SQUASH in the run-up to its recent report asked the Met Police for their statistics regarding the use of s144 in London; they stonewalled us. Just weeks after the report is published, the Evil Standard gets a lovely scoop from the Met with all the ethnic statistics it could ever want. This is a clear example of the political-media-police nexus, which the Leveson Inquiry only touched upon in its deliberations. When David Guantlett died of hypothermia outside an empty bunglow, the national press simply ignored it; when the Met publishes its racial statistics, the media go into a frenzy, as witnessed by Auntie’s wonderfully biased piece on BBC’s Newsnight [25 mins in]. Good old Beeb, huh; protecting the national interest for us all so we can sleep at night.

4] Squatting Academia

nail house

At SQUASH we get a lot of interest from academicians, from PhD students to journalist undergrads, asking us all about squatting and the implications on the spatial inference of the urban dialectic in a non-material socio-economic framework. Of course we can’t always help with such abstract enquiries, but the material produced does provide squatting and the urban housing movements was some intellectual background and historical examples with which to base future actions. Mute Magazine’s Whose Rebel City? [Neil Gray, Dec 2012] and Law School at Exeter University’s “Squat or Rot? The Changing Architectures of Property, Land and Law Property Rights”, which happened on the 27th March 2013, are two recent examples. Keep ‘em coming to us.

3] Global Housing Crisis continues….

womens library

The occupation and eviction of the London Women’s Library in Waterloo by the heavy-handed TSG and private security (beating women a speciality) has largely been ignored by the mainstream media but has been covered by excellent blogs like Squat.net which rival SQUASH’s; read more here: London: Feminists Evicted from Women’s Library.Meanwhile in the backwards US of A, native American Abka Re Bey (aka Tabith Gentry) was arrested early on the 8th March outside an empty mansion that she and her family had squatted; she faces charges of aggravated burglary, criminal trespass and theft of property (ah I thought that was the colonial invaders). Read more on Indymedia UK’s ”Native squatter refuses to cooperate in court after mansion eviction”. And it seems that that evictions (land and housing) has become a global phenomena with the group Habitants calling for an International day of action against eviction and displacement with protest actions in front of the Spanish embassy in London to show solidarity with the Mortgage Holders Platform (PAH), in Edinburgh, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and other Spanish cities. Meanwhile “Let Down” have called for a day of action against high rents and rip-off letting agent fees on Saturday 27 April “on a high street near you; they are protesting against private renters are being let down by poor standards, sky-high rents and extortionate bogus letting agent fees who charge fees on top of rent and deposits. In Norf London, Save our Homes: Haringey are considering resisting the eviction of 21 families in Connaught Gardens Muswell Hill from land is owned by the MET Police, who want to sell it to developers; some local rag coverage here from Ham&High ” VIDEO: Police threaten Muswell Hill families with eviction ahead of home sale “ [3 March]. And last but not least, the brilliant Haringey Housing Action group called a ‘Decent Homes For All’ public mini-conference in Wood Green Library on the 16th March with nearly 60 residents attending. The event, called by a number of residents’ action groups concerned with housing issues, brought people together to share their experiences and views about a whole range of shocking Government-driven attacks on local people’s housing rights.