Aged 21 from Plymouth, Alex was the first person to be prosecuted under Section 144. He had come to London to pursue an internship as a bricklayer and resorted to squatting after finding himself homeless and looking for a safe place to live. Alex was arrested for living in an empty house in Pimlico that belongs to a housing association, and was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail. He had no previous convictions. On hearing the news his father commented:
“They have made an example of him. To put him in that prison environment, I don‘t understand it.”
At just 18 years old Cameron is the youngest person to have been convicted of squatting so far. After losing his apprenticeship and his home, Cameron was having problems getting job seekers‘ allowance and housing benefit. Facing homelessness, Cameron used an empty building for three weeks last November. He was handed an 18 week suspended sentence despite having no previous convictions.
Aged 27, Michael was arrested in Blackburn on the 31st of January. Michael – homeless, unemployed and with drinking problems – was taking shelter for the night in an empty house and received a 15 week sentence.
In an extremely sad story, media reports suggest Daniel Gauntlett, 35, is the first known person to die because of the new squatting law. He tried to find shelter in a boarded up empty bungalow, a residential property under the new offence, but was reportedly prevented in doing so by the Police who could have been acting on Section 144.
Whether the police action was a direct result of s144 or not, the sad fact remains unchanged: had Daniel been allowed to shelter himself at no harm to anyone, he would probably be still alive. A local resident commented:
“He was a very nice man apparently. He used to ask for money but not for drink. He used to buy pasties from the supermarket. It was so sad. Especially when the houses are empty.”
These cases are a far cry from the depictions offered by those who called for the criminalisation of squatting. As expected, a law that was introduced to “protect homeowners” is ultimately, putting homeless people in jail, or worse, simply for trying to avoid rough sleeping. No one arrested or impacted so far have displaced residents from their home – all were occupying empty properties.