SQUASH NewsRound 2016-2017

The NewsRound is a sporadic update, keeping tabs on articles posted in MainStream Media (MSM), as well as independent channels, about squatting, the new law (s144) and possible new legislation. Disclaimer: All views expressed in this blog are that of the compiler and not necessarily that of SQUASH.

It has been five years since section 144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (s144 LASPOA 2012) became enforceable, which criminalises residential squatting in England and Wales. Nevertheless, squatting continues, albeit in a highly constrained form. Since mid-2016, there have been some high profile squats, such as Open House in Oxford and Camesquat, highlighting the issues of homelessness, property guardians and wasted empty spaces. In December 2016, The Advisory Service for Squatters launched its much awaited 14th Edition of the ‘Squatters Handbook’, a must-have resource for all squatters, current and future. Despite these positive developments, the law continues to assert unnecessary pressure on squatting, making it more difficult to do and harder to remain in a property for long. These effects are raised in the following article, highlighting the need for stable autonomous spaces to sustain squatting: ‘The edge of precarity: Squatting in England and emergency crisis planning’ (Freedom, 25 July 2017)

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Politically, there have been no signals that squatting is high up on the Parliamentary agenda. The House of Commons Library released its ominously titled report ‘Evicting Squatters’ (2017), which sets out the legislative story so far, the effect s144 has had (using SQUASH stats among others) and the government’s current position, namely, neutrality on the issue of expanding criminalisation. The LASPO Act has come under criticism from civil rights and legal bodies alike, notably Amnesty International’s ‘Cuts That Hurt’ (October 2016) and the Law Society’s ‘LASPO 4 years on’ (2017). These reports show that the Act is having massive impacts on ‘access to justice’, creating legal advice ‘deserts’ across much of England and Wales, a big increase in litigants in person whose cases take 50% longer, and the appearance of perverse situations, like abusers being allowed to cross-examine their victims.

Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) has not been able to update s144 arrest and detention figures, since our last report in May 2016: ‘Squatting Statistics 2015’. Nevertheless, we continue to watch the situation for any changes, and compile squatting resources, a growing compendium of research, articles, books, DIY press, and historical nuggets.

Actions

Camesquat – September 2016

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Camesquat was one of the most interesting and provocative squat actions this past year, a group squatting the ex-headquarters of Camelot, a major property guardian company. For those unaware, property guardian companies are exploitative private enterprises who protect empty buildings by occupation, and an avowed enemy of squatting (see ‘On Property Guardianships’). The government has been reluctant to regulate the industry, and currently the London Assembly is investigating property guardianships.

The Camesquat building was occupied and held in an audacious action, involving squatters, supporters, security and the police (see this excellent blog piece by an anonymous supporter). The successful occupation caught the media’s attention, and several articles appeared (Guardian and Hackney Gazette), including Camelot’s failed PR stunt to work with the squatters to turn the building into an ‘art space’. The action highlighted the disingenuous nature of property guardian companies, and was a large egg in the face for the industry. The squat was finally evicted in December(?). Well done all those involved, truly inspirational stuff.

Iffley Open House, Oxford – January 2017

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During the winter of 2017, ‘squatters’ and activists occupied one of Oxford University’s many long-term empty buildings, to turn it into a temporary homeless shelter. Oxford has not only seen a massive increase in street homelessness, but its housing shelters have been closed one by one. The building was taken back pretty sharpishly (around end of February) to be demolished for new ‘student accommodation’, and the group’s attempt to squat another of the University’s buildings was rebuffed. The action was important to highlight the issue of rough sleeping and the simple solutions actually available, namely squatting. Nevertheless, the group did not represent themselves in court to win more time, and refused to consider barricading to prevent eviction, for whatever reason; a retrospective analysis is offered up in: ‘On homelessness and squatting in Oxford’ (OpenDemocracy, 2 March 2017).

 

ANAL’s West London Rampage – January-February 2017

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The squatting group, ANAL’s ‘rolling programme’ of squatting empty mansions in West London started again in early 2017, turning them into winter homeless shelters. They started in Belgravia, where they were attacked during the occupation by a group throwing bricks through the window. Next they moved in near Buckingham Palace, before being evicted once more.

The scandal of empty mansions left to rot is not a new issue, this article and photo-montage from the Guardian, ‘Inside Billionaire’s Row’ (2014), shows nothing has changed. The issue was raised again following the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, in which many social housing residents died, and many more made homeless, by a cladding-fuelled fire in West London.

Squatters showed solidarity with the Grenfell survivors by holding a benefit gig at a squat in London Bridge, which saw many of the Grenfell community coming down to MC and speak. And it was from a ‘pop-up’ squat in Knightsbridge in March 2016, Eddie (Grenfell resident and advocate) was already talking publicly about the terrible long-term neglect of his housing estate. SQUASH offers its sincere sympathy and condolences to all those affected; your tragedy must not be forgotten or trivialised.

Commentary

The following are commentaries on squatting, which have made published in the last 12 months, highlighting points of ‘Why Squatting is Great’:

Mainstream Media

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The biggest squatting story during the 2017 UK Election involved the right-wing press attempting to discredit the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell MP, by claiming they had ‘backed a militant group that issued a ‘how to’ guide advocating the occupation of family homes’. The story ran in the Daily Mail, Express and Sun at the beginning of June, the ‘militant group’ named was none other than SQUASH.

John McDonnell MP has been supportive of squatting for a number of years, especially with land-squat Grow Heathrow in his constituency. McDonnell wrote an article ‘Squatting the frontline’, republished on the SQUASH blog, and spoke at the launch of SQUASH’s 2013 reportThe Case against Section 144’. The press stories call SQUASH a ‘militant group’, which advocates breaking into ‘people’s properties when they are away’, misrepresenting quotes taken off the ‘Start Squatting’ section of the website. SQUASH is a campaign group, highlighting the plight of squatters and the homeless, using research reports and information, hardly ‘militant’ actions. Furthermore SQUASH would never advocate something as stupid as breaking into someone’s property while they were away on holiday/off to the shops. The right-wing press reaction was a throw-back to 2011, when they used their clout to back criminalisation.

In another case of right-wing scare-mongering, the Evening Standard carried the article ‘Deptford ‘riot': Mob of revellers attack police after illegal rave at disused bank shut down’. The event involved a squatted social centre in South London, holding a small benefit gig, which was closed down by the police before the party could even begin. Accounts estimate about 15-20 police cars and vans rushing to the venue at around 11pm, proceeding to pepper spray at will into the crowd of waiting party-goers, making random arrests, etc. Nobody had done anything, and yet another over-reaction by the press and police goes unpunished.

Resources & Research

ASS ‘Squatters Handbook’ 14th Edition

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On the evening of 1 December 2016, the Freedom Bookshop hosted the launch of the much awaited 14th Edition of the ‘Squatter’s Handbook’, compiled by the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS). The book was launched with free ‘skipped’ food, drinks and a showing of the 1970’s ‘Squatters’ film. Although the launch did not generate any serious planning discussions, all those attending seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

The new Handbook contains useful, updated information for squatters, both legal and practical, and is recommended as a rough guide to anyone interested in social housing, immigration enforcement issues, legal rights for property guardians and travellers. The Handbook provides essential tips at every stage of a squat, from securing a place and fixing it up, correctly citing the law to unwanted visitors, and dealing with eventual court proceedings. It’s a handy guide, which you can refer to quickly and easily as you encounter issues. Great work ASS, a mammoth task successfully executed. To get your copy, visit the ASS website.

DIY Press

SLAP – Squatters Of London Action Paper

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DIY squat zine, SLAP,  has been around for a little while now, and Issue 7 came out in April 2017. Formatted as two sides of A4, the paper is quick to read and easy to print out. Despite its size, this zine contains a lot of  useful information, like global squat actions, London news, BastardWatch, etc. It’s style is funny and informative, reporting what’s happening out there on the streets, such as immigration enforcement against squatters from the EU. Well done on another issue, and looking forward to many more….

Links to other issues: Issue 1: /// Issue 2: /// Issue 3: /// Issue 5:

Nervemeter

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Nervemeter, the homeless person’s homeless magazine, continues to put out quarterly (or so) publications of their glossy mag, in their time honoured format of diverse quotes and collage around a particular theme. If you see a homeless person selling Nervemeter, pick up a copy for a suggested donation of 3 quid. In June 2016, Nervemeter did an issue on the theme of ‘Gentrification and Squatting’, which featured SQUASH stats, among a variety of other sources.

Audio interviews

‘Interference Archive – Squatting in London’:

Interference Archive is ‘a collectively run archive of movement history and community space’ based in New York. In 2016, one of their broadcasters came to London and interviewed the Advisory Service for Squatters (at 0:35 to 05:00, at 09:27 to 13:14), and SQUASH (at 05:00 to 09:00), about squatting in London for it’s 20 minute podcast. Thanks Interference for putting time and effort into this.

Dissident Island

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In late 2016, Dissident Island invited SQUASH to be one of the interviewees on their online radio show, to give an update on squatting and SQUASH (at 01:30, to 17:45), with Dissident regular Andy, there to help us qoute the law correctly. The interview was a good chance to speak about the changes to squatting four years on from the introduction of s144 LASPOA 2012, and since our last interview on Dissident Island back in September 2012. Many thanks to Dissident for the opportunity.

 

Academic

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Trespass Journal, which describes itself as a ‘self-managed, open access, and unfunded […] multidisciplinary and publishes work in different languages’, released its First Issue in early 2017. Issue One has articles about punk and anarchist squats in Poland, squatting in Sweden, a review of Tobocman’s War in the Neighbourhood, and others. What’s great is that this single publication has articles in English, Spanish, Dutch and French, giving it a very European feel, all the articles are well written and there are pictures too! Well done on the first issue….

SqEK (Squatting Europe Kollective) released a paper on 26 April 2017 entitled: The Micropolitics of Criminalisation: Power, Resistance and the Amsterdam Squatting Movement. The paper is a 300+ page personal investigation into the squatting movement in Amsterdam, and the effects of criminalisation on it. The piece is well-written and understandable, and a resource for anyone looking for theoretical frameworks, the relationship between academics and squatting, and squat life in the Netherlands. The paper is a more in-depth version of the lecture given by SqEK in London back in 2016.

Rowan Tallis Milligan, ‘The Politics of the Crowbar: Squatting in London, 1968-1977’ (Anarchist Studies Volume 24 No. 2) A well-executed study of squatting, taking the position that ‘squatting is a political act in itself’, and critiquing the ‘good/ bad squatter’ dicothomy. The article is a succinctly written overview of 1970’s squatting history, examining how some of the scenarios played out, and weaving in other examples from European struggles, and across the historical spectrum.

Squatting: reappropriating democracy from the state’ (Interface Journal 2017) This academic article is about squats in Italy. However, it is written in very dense academic prose, but for the researcher, it may offer some useful information about squatting in Italy.

 

Books

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Alexander Vasudevan, ‘The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting’ (Verso Books, April 2017)

The launch of Vasudevan’s well-researched book about squatting, using various case studies from across the world, has been met with mainstream media attention. There were book reviews in the Guardian, Curbed and a radio interview on BBC Radio 4, among others. Vasudevan’s work seems to offer another theoretical support to a pro-squatting narrative.

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Don Watson, ‘Squatting in Britain 1945-1955: Housing, Politics, and Direct Action’ (Merlin Press)

This book is an engaging and definitive account of squatting immediately after the Second World War, when many ex-service people and others squatted army camps as a means to house themselves. Its story fills another gap in Britain’s squatting history, and thank you to E.T.C. Dee for providing us an insightful book review on Freedom News.

 

Kurtis Sunday, ‘Anarchy In a Cold War’ (self-published 2012) – free e-Book version A fictional account of the East Berlin punk-squat scene during the Cold War. Have a read, see what you think…..