Don’t believe the hype: evictions continue despite moratorium

The ban is a lie. Despite the UK government declaring a “complete ban on evictions” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in the last 24 hours an autonomous homeless shelter in Brighton and an occupied space in Peckham have been illegally evicted by people claiming to be bailiffs, allegedly with the full support and cooperation of the Sussex and Metropolitan police officers in attendance.

The government’s no evictions claim is really just the abdication of due process and the scant judicial protections formerly afforded to tenants, squatters and the under-class in general.

Get ready. The bailiffs and their bosses are taking the law into their own hands, with the police in full support.

Freedom received the following statement from one of the occupants of the Peckham squat:

“On Thursday 2 April 2020 at approximately 17:00, police arrived at 1 Rye Lane in Peckham after being called by a group of 2 men who had arrived at approximately 16:03 and who had claimed to be the owners of this non-residential property without proof.

The two men had been antagonising and threatening our group of 5 women and 1 man for occupying the building. We had been occupying number 1 Rye Lane since Wednesday 25 March 2020  and the police were aware of this, as around 12 police officers had arrived on Friday, 27 March, in 4 cars.  They had gained entry to the property by taking out metal fencing and a wooden door.  The police had gained entry without a warrant and had left after seeing our legal warning that highlighted that we were occupying the building and also highlighted the squatting laws.

The legal warning stipulates that the government will not seek to criminalise squatting in non-residential buildings, such as disused factories, warehouses or pubs; that we were occupying the property, and at all times there is at least one person in occupation; that any entry or attempt to enter into these premises without our permission is therefore a criminal offence, as any one of us who is in physical possession is opposed to such entry without our permission; that if anyone attempts to enter by violence or by threatening violence can be prosecuted and may receive a sentence of up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000; that if you want to get us out you will have to issue a claim for possession in the County Court or in the High Court.

We believe that the entry by the police on Friday 27 March while we were occupying the building would have been caught by some of the numerous CCTV cameras in the area. When the police had illegally gained entry into the building they found us inside, at which point we explained that we were occupying it under squatting laws and they established this by seeing our sleeping materials. They left us at that point as they seemed to acknowledge the law.

A group of us remained in constant occupation of this building, and the rest of us began to move our living and sleeping materials in. On the afternoon of Thursday, 2nd April, some men who claimed to be owners of the property turned up and they began threatening us with physical harm. This caused a lot of distress, particularly for the women in the group.

The men who were claiming to be the owners also began threatening us saying they were going to call immigration officers which we believe was motivated by racism having seen that there was a woman of colour in our group who actually has a legal right to live in the UK and other Europeans who also have a legal right to be in the UK. This caused a lot of distress to the group and  threats to people of colour and immigrants like this constitute a hate crime under hate speech laws in England & Wales, namely section 4A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. We made the police aware of what had happened when they arrived, both the physical threats and hate speech. The police officers didn’t take it seriously and brushed it off.

One of the people claiming to be the owner had illegally gained entry into the building while we were occupying it. The people claiming to be the owners had also ripped off our Section 6 notice and torn it up before the police came. After the police arrived and in full sight of the officers, the men who were claiming to be owners began to break the door down despite both the owners and the police being made aware of the squatting laws and that what they were doing was illegal. They broke the door down and gained entry and, with the help of the police, they illegally evicted us from the building.

The police threatened us with arrest if we did not leave the building and we have video footage of Constable Ryan Taney threatening us and Constable Thorpe telling one of us to stop filming him making threats telling him to step back during the illegal eviction. Constable Taney is seen talking to one of the men claiming to be the owner who they had handcuffed for illegally gaining entry, the police later let him go without arrest and without charging him.

It is evident that the police participated in the illegal forced entry of an occupied building and assisted in the illegal eviction of squatters. One of the officers is heard saying he is a police officer so he can gain lawful entry anyway, a statement which goes against squatting laws for non-residential buildings.

When a non-residential building that’s not in use is occupied by squatters, the legal way to regain possession of the building by anyone claiming to be the owner is to take the occupiers to civil court. The people claiming to be the owners need to use the appropriate legal route which requires that they file a claim for possession in court and serve the correct papers to the occupiers of the building with a court date that they can all attend with a judge present to verify all of the information and relevant documents needed. The documents required in the court of law to claim possession of a property include title deeds for the property. The judge then scrutinises and verifies the legitimacy of the documents before granting possession. If the documents are seen to be missing or to not be legitimate, the judge then asks the claimant to provide the correct documentation at a later court date and possession of the building by the claimant is not granted without the correct proof of ownership through these legal documents. This is in place to protect both the people occupying the building from bullying, harassment, abuse or being illegally evicted like happened to us and also to protect property owners, as anyone can claim to be the owner of a building but without appropriate proof, it’s just a claim!

The police claimed that they were not aware that we were squatters even though we had told them and even though they had attended the building nearly a week before and verified that we were occupying the building. We managed to record some clips of what happened and in one clip you can see the officer claiming to not have been aware it was a squat even though we told him when they arrived.

Despite having a legal warning before the police arrived and before the owners had ripped it off the door and torn it up, there is actually no legal requirement to have such warning up if you are already occupying a building under squatting laws and we did tell the owner and police that we were squatting the building which they all ignored. It seems the lack of the legal warning after it had been torn up by the owners was being used as an excuse to illegally evict us. This is an abuse of power and completely against the law.

Furthermore, it is shocking considering that special measures have been in place since 27 March 2020 that stop all evictions, including squatters, due to the major public health crisis we are all in during the current COVID-19 pandemic that’s disrupted everyone’s lives and is causing a lot of anxieties and deaths in the UK and all around the world. Evicting people unlawfully should never happen and doing so to put people on the streets at a time like this is inhumane and dangerous. The officers could also have put others as risk along with putting themselves at risk of spreading or catching the virus.

We will pursue this injustice for as long as we can and as far as we can to ensure that such an abuse of power and unlawful behaviour from the police never happens to anyone else again! We would also like to highlight that police willingly ignoring public health measures in these unprecedented times of crisis is never OK no matter who you are along with not taking physical threats and hate speech seriously.

We are very disappointed with the behaviour of the police officers and we hope you can put in place serious disciplinary measures to ensure they and the rest of the police force do not abuse their power and that they respect the law, which includes squatting laws, to protect the homeless and other marginalised people.”