SQUASH Update: February 2014

Updates for February 2014:

1] Police Evict Protest Squat Camden

2] Lambeth Renters Refuse to Meet Chuka Umunna

3] Questions Raised on Parliament on Squatting

4] Homes Not Jails Demo Report

5] Calais Squats Attacked by Fascists

6] North Devon Pub Occupied

Police Violently Evict Residential Squat Protest – Camden – 25 Feb 14

camden squat

The Met Police evicted a squat in a commercial/ residential building in Camden last Tuesday, using battering rams, and arresting two people on suspicion of criminal offenses under LASPO s144. This marks a new phase in the repression of squatting under the new law, since no similar actions were taken with the Southwark protest last year. Whether the charges will stick is another question (previous cases have fallen through), and the tactic may have been used to empty the building of those protesting the sell-off of council property; SQUASH will be consulting with other squat groups on the possible ramifications of these latest arrests. Reports on the event:

“Camden, London: Two charged with Section 144 after council house occupied in protest of sell-offs and then evicted” [25 Feb 2014, squat!net]

Based on the press release 24/02 from Housing Action Lambeth & Southwark (for more info on the camdenhag [at] gmail [dot] com):

“Camden Housing Action Group is occupying council property on Southampton road to protest against its selling off to private developers. Camden council has promised to the residents of Camden that no residential housing stock would be sold off, but non residential properties such as land and garages would be sold to fund new housing. Without any consultation or public announcement Camden council broke its promise by offering up for auction several residential properties on Southampton road. Camden housing action group is calling on Camden council to withdraw the properties from the sale, issue an explanation and confirm that no further sell offs will take place in the future.

Anna Gardener, a member of Camden housing action group said: “Our occupation is a protest at the mass sell-off of desperately needed council housing in our borough, and the whole of London, which is exacerbating the housing crisis and amounts to social cleansing as low income residents are forced out of zones 1 and 2. Our occupation is also a challenge to section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders act which criminalises squatting in abandoned residential properties. By using the building as a protest occupation, section 144 cannot be applied. We want to show the importance of being able to still use abandoned residential buildings for community protests such as ours. Criminalising squatting will only make the housing crisis worse, undermining the right to shelter and protest.”

“Police raid crushes squatting protest in Belsize Park” [Evening Standard, 25 Feb 2014]

The Camden arrests got some fairly visible coverage in the anti-squatting newspaper, the Evening Standard, which states: “[...] A man and a woman were arrested and taken away in a riot van. Another man was bundled to the pavement but later released without charge. A sergeant at the scene said the pair were held on suspicion of breaking the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which criminalises squatting in a residential building. The released man, who gave his name as Harris Fletcher, 23, said: “We’re here to protest about the sell-off of council housing. We came to support the people inside after hearing the police were illegally threatening to break in.” [...] Theo Blackwell, Camden’s cabinet member for finance, said: “I’ve sympathy with any protester who says no to selling off council homes, but they’ve got the wrong end of the stick. These buildings were never council flats. They were coming to the end of their leases. We’re using the money to build council homes down the road.” [Ed – yeah, bollocks!]

Shout Out! to Lambeth Renters

Lambeth Renters were offered a meeting with Chuka Umunna – Labour stooge – but have turned it down unless he reneged on his calls for an extension of the squatting ban, another heartening expression of solidarity from a private renters group. Thanks and well done to Lambeth Renters who have released this open letter on their website, “Lambeth Renters refuse meeting with local MP” [Lambeth Renters, 27 Feb 2014] , with excerpt below:

“Thanks for your invitation to meet with you this Friday to discuss the issues facing private tenants in our area. As just a few of the roughly 25,000 renters in your constituency, we’d love to share with you first-hand our experiences of increasingly unaffordable rents, chronic insecurity of tenure, atrocious housing conditions and the generalised exploitation by landlords, letting agencies and others (such as gas and electricity suppliers).

But your recent statement in favour of the further criminalisation of squatting suggests that you’re not on our side, or on the side of the majority of people who are struggling for secure, decent and affordable housing. With a massive shortage of social housing, no chance of buying a house, soaring private sector rents and now the criminalisation of rough sleeping, squatting is not such an unthinkable thing to do but fast becoming the last housing option for an increasing number of people.”

Further Squatting Criminalisation: the Slow Burn

It seems there is slow, but constant, egging for further criminalisation of squatting by various MP’s and ministers. The first is from Priti Patel regarding Gypsy and Traveller Policy in a Westminster Hall debate on the 4th February, the second a question from Tory MP Macleod to Damien Green (Tory MP & minister) on the 26th February. The tactic seems to be trying to keep the debate on criminalising squatting in commercial premises alive, no doubt preparing the way for more concerted action at some point in the future. Transcript of second question below:

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what recent representations he has received on the potential merits of making squatting in commercial buildings a criminal offence.

Damian Green (The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice; Ashford, Conservative): We have received several letters from MPs and members of the public about this issue. Some have described the financial impact that squatting can have on commercial property owners, including the costs they might incur through loss of revenue, legal fees and building repairs. Others have expressed concern about the impact criminalisation could have on people who squat in dilapidated commercial buildings to avoid rough sleeping. We are considering these issues carefully and have not made any final decisions about whether to criminalise squatting in commercial buildings.

 

Homes Not Jails Demo – Report

homes not jails

A nice piece of direct action at London City Hall to oppose new police strategies to criminalise the street homeless in a number of boroughs in London (Operation Encompass). Report below from “Beat on the Streets”/ “Peace Strike” which outlines the events on the day (26th February) and shows the devisive nature of the housing debate at city-wide level, ie “deserving” (war veterens) vs “undeserving” (everyone else) homeless, and the use of private companies to police and profit from the homeless situation (No Second Night Out)

Homes Not Jails Demo – 26 Feb 14 [from IMC UK, posted by Peace Strike]

“I was at city hall at 09.30 and met with some of the overnight sleepers from a group from Beat On the Streets. They are concerned that homeless people are in danger of being criminalised. They had camped on the grass area outside the City Hall, home of the London Assembly and London Mayor Boris Johnson. They were removed early this morning. There was one tent on the pavement when I arrived. Some of the group had left but those that remained were in good spirits.

Boris was in good jovial form and managed very well to evade difficult questions. Suddenly a group of people, who had been sitting directly opposite Boris’s view displayed signs of ‘Home not Jails’ A member of staff / security approached and asked them not to display the signs. This was ignored and the group became vocal ‘Why are you criminalizing the homeless?’ More security arrived and people were ushered out. One man was physically lifted and carried out. ‘Whose streets? Our streets! was chanted. It was never the less peaceful and order was quickly restored and the meeting called to resume at 11.14 [...]We were leading up to the question concerning Homeless Veterans (question No.2014/0630) at 11.27 when again a few people began to chant “Homes not Jail!” They were quickly removed from the chamber and went peacefully. Boris did acknowledge that there was a homeless issue and that it was not going to go away. He said it was complex, however the focus was to stop homeless people becoming entrenched in the life style that would then become difficult to leave, and become an established way of life.

Major Boris Johnson mentioned Help 4 Homeless Veterans which was set up specifically to help military veterans. He said that they had served their country and that we as a nation had a duty to care for them. He said the scheme was working very well and that 8/10 did not go back on the streets. He also mentioned ‘No second night out’ a support organization for rough sleepers. Mayor Boris Johnson is concerned about the homeless plight, however an open public debate is needed as the implications of so called criminalising homeless people for sleeping rough has far reaching implications and raises many concerns. [...] Outside City Hall a tent had been erected and some of the protesters were talking to some media and passersby. They vowed to continue and challenge any unjust legislation that would outlaw homeless people. All was peaceful without any intervention at 12 noon.”

Calais Squats: Fascists Attack Migrant Squat with Fire-bombs, etc as Police Look On

Some excellent reports and analysis on the events in Calais over the last few weeks, which have seen neo-Nazi group – “Sauvon Calais” – fire-bombing a squat being used by migrants for shelter, the town’s right-wing mayor ordering residents to snitch on squats, and the police passively observing attacks and even murdering refugees themselves. Squats are at the forefront of providing refuge and basic amenities for refugees from war zones like Syria, and are constantly – and illegally – being evicted as soon as they open. Please support solidarity groups in Calais who are on the front-line of providing humanitarian support to migrants and are often at the receiving end of many of these attacks.

“CALAIS: report and new call-out after fire in Coulogne” [25 Feb 2014, IMC UK]

“Come on! Come on! (Communique regarding the occupation of a number of buildings” [IMC UK, 28 Feb 2014]

Both articles (and more) can be found on: squat!net

Calais Migrant Solidarity blog site: http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com

North Devon Pub Squatted

barnstaple

A good story about locals occupying their local pub to resist the ubiquitous creep of regeneration (aka twatification) of their area: “Residence of Forchers housing estate in Barnstaple, North Devon have occupied their pub The Borough Arms which is due to be knocked down to make way for flats as part of a regeneration scheme. The locals have taken their building back and hope to save it from from the re-development as they highlight a lack of local facilities. The occupation, which has been underway for a week has been met with positive media attention.”

Video, pics and short article: “Barnstaple residents occupy pub” [ITV, 19 Feb 2014]