A group who occupied an empty bank to shelter and feed homeless people over Christmas are fighting to establish that their eviction was unlawful reports Dan Poulton
Activists who occupied a former NatWest bank over the Christmas period went before a civil court this morning following their eviction by bailiffs last Wednesday, Christmas Eve. The premises at 2a Charing Cross Road had lain empty for two years and are now owned by Greencap Ltd.
The 'Love HQ' occupation aimed to shelter and feed homeless people over the bitter winter period and raise awareness of a major housing and homelessness crisis in London and the rest of the country.
It emerged during the hearing that Greencap filed an injunction against trespassers and then moved to evict the occupiers. The occupiers claim that this was unlawful as the premises were already being squatted at the time of the injunction and their eviction involved the use of force by bailiffs.
Greencap's barristers aimed to use today's hearing to resolve the question of who has the legal right to possession of the empty premises. However the Judge agreed to adjourn the hearing until the 9th February, at the request of the defendants' representative Clare Solomon, on the basis that questions were raised over seemingly contradictory information in the documents served to the occupiers as well as their inability to secure legal representation over the Christmas period.
The Love HQ activists will now present evidence, including witness statements and video footage, claiming they were forcibly evicted on false pretences.
Love HQ activist Paul told Counterfire, “we've managed to challenge the laws involving evictions. The main point we made in court today was that the initial order was only to prevent trespass as opposed to actually initiate an eviction and because of that the bailiffs entered the building unlawfully and evicted the people there without an order to do so. To us that's a criminal offence.
Paul claims bailiffs used force to evict the occupiers:
“Intimidation was the prime tactic that they used. They all stood around told everybody to get up and leave. People left their possessions as they were intimidated.”
“We were assaulted. I personally was. I had locked myself in the first floor comms room and told them I wasn't going to leave. They forced entry into that room, I blocked the door with my foot and one of the bailiffs reached round the door and started punching me in the arm and and then preceded to kick me in the leg. He wasn't wearing any identification of who he was or who he worked for. I had to leave the building or else I would have faced arrest. I heard several people were assaulted on the day and we have video evidence and witness statements.”
“We want the courts to acknowledge that our eviction was unlawful and we want someone to be charged for that. We've established that it isn't criminal to squat a building which has occupants in it as long as they are separated off. It seems that you can legally squat a building with security in. If the court acknowledges the eviction was unlawful it gives us something to fight for on the grounds of squatting laws.”
Love HQ activists are currently handing out food and clothes to homeless people outside 2a Charing Cross Road and are collecting money to maintain the project. They are also leafleting for the March For Homes protest on 31 January organised by the South London People's Assembly, Radical Housing Network and others.
Homelessness campaigner Norbert Lawrie told Counterfire “there's a massive housing and homelessness crisis right here in the centre of London. Love HQ has already raised £1,000 online in a week and are collecting hundreds of pounds of donations from passers by.” He told us there are no plans to re-occupy the space. “It's not about getting back in to the building, it's about something bigger than that.”
March for Homes
12:00 noon, Saturday 31 January 2015
Elephant & Castle, 119 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BB
- Control rents
- Cut rents not benefits
- Secure tenancies for all
- Stop demolition of quality council homes
- Build new council houses
Unite housing Workers LE1111 is supporting & assisting in the organising.
Called by Defend Council Housing and South London People's Assembly.
March for Homes Facbook event
Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner. His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.
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