Edited on 5 September 2011:
We’ve just noticed that the sheriff’s office have written their own article:
Squatter eviction in Hackney
by David Carter on 27 August 2011
On Friday, The Sheriffs Office cleared a large squat in Terrace Road, Hackney, East London removing twenty adult squatters from a shop and four flats.
Acting on behalf of our client, who was recently bequeathed the premises as part of a legacy, we used a Writ of Possession to gain High Court approval to enter the building, by force if necessary, and take possession of the property by evicting the squatters who had been illegally squatting for up to a year.
The premises were linked and had at one time been one large shop with living accommodation above in a parade of shops. Although the squatters had installed a CCTV system to warn them of possible eviction, the eviction team bypassed the cameras and surprised them in the early hours of the morning, clearing all of the properties simultaneously.
Supported by a police presence of eight officers, we had removed all but two of the squatters by 7:40 am. We also helped the squatters to remove all of their personal belongings. One female squatter tried to re-enter the premises and was restrained by a Police Officer while another refused to leave and had to be physically escorted from the premises. The premises were restored to their proper owners by 9 am that morning.
I’m delighted that the eviction went smoothly. The Police were supportive and, as usual, worked with our own enforcement officers in unison, assisting where necessary. Unlike other enforcement companies, The Sheriffs Office is very much in support of the proposed new laws to make squatting a criminal offence in England and Wales.
- They did not remove “twenty adult squatters”, they removed ‘only’ 17 homeless people and kicked them out on to the street in the early hours of the morning, in the rain, the Friday before a bank holiday weekend when it would have been pretty much impossible to get support, advice and possibly temporary emergency housing from the appropriate agencies.
- As previously mentioned, it wasn’t really necessary to obtain a Writ of Possession to gain High Court approval. We had been in fairly constant contact with the courts, finding out when the bailiffs were due to evict us. We had been occupying three properties, two shop units and the flats above, and we had been informed by the Court Service that the eviction for the shops was due on 7 September and the flats were due to be evicted on 24 September.
- It’s surprising that someone who is writing an article for the Sheriffs Office including the text “squatters who had been illegally squatting for up to a year” apparently doesn’t know the difference between illegal and unlawful. Squatting isn’t illegal, it’s not a crime, it’s a civil wrong, a matter for the civil courts. We should have thought that the Sheriffs Office of all people ought to know the difference, since they’re carrying out evictions as a result of such proceedings.
- The properties were not “recently bequeathed the premises as part of a legacy”, the properties have been owned by the trust for a considerable length of time and have been arguably mismanaged, certainly neglected and allowed to become seriously dilapidated. The background is well-known locally, in that the owners and their managing agents have been trying to force out other legitimate shop tenants through raising rents by as much as 300 per cent, many of the shops on the street have been vacated due to the owner’s and their managing agent’s unreasonable demands.
- “The squatters had installed a CCTV system” is also factually incorrect. Some of the squatters are artists, and video cameras had been re-sited as an art installation as a commentary about the surveillance society, as the UK is one of the most surveilled societies in the world. It is factually incorrect to suggest that the sheriffs “eviction team” had somehow cleverly “bypassed the cameras”, which were not plugged in, and not connected to any monitors. In fact, it wasn’t difficult at all for the sheriffs to gain entry, as one of the squatters had left early that morning to go to work and so the main door to the courtyard had not only been left unlocked and unbarricaded, it had been left open, so no force was required.
- “We also helped the squatters to remove all of their personal belongings.” Again, this is factually incorrect. The majority of the sheriffs were very obstructive and refused to let people collect their belongings. However, a couple of them were more reasonable and amenable, and helped one of the squatters, who has a disability and isn’t able to carry heavy things. After we had all vacated the premises those individual sheriffs also went back into the building to retrieve some personal possessions including a bag containing someone’s passport (Thanks guys, you know who you are, we appreciated your help!). We certainly were not permitted to remove all of our personal belongings. As things stand, we have made repeated phone calls to a number given on a notice affixed to the gate, yet no one has returned our calls to tell us when we can have our belongings back. At the moment, they are withholding many personal possessions, including documents, clothes, bedding, mattresses, all our pots and pans and cooking equipment from the kitchen. Most importantly, someone who wasn’t living at Well Furnished, but was storing a bag there for safety (because we weren’t due to be evicted till 7 and 24 September) has been repeatedly asking the 24/7 security guards to retrieve a bag containing her passport. This person is a European citizen and she can’t go home or travel anywhere without her passport and it will be difficult for her to get a replacement while she’s stuck in the UK. It is, basically, a lie to say that they helped the squatters remove all of their personal belongings when more than a week later they are still withholding someone’s bag containing a passport and also lots of other personal effects belonging to many of us, given that we were rudely awakened in the early hours of the morning and evicted unexpectedly well before the date the Court Service told us we were due to be evicted.
- “One female squatter tried to re-enter the premises and was restrained by a Police Officer…” Again, this assertion is factually incorrect. One squatter did not try to re-enter the premises, she simply attempted to remove from the gate a padlock, which was the property of the squatters. As she removed the padlock and passed it to one of the other squatters, she was physically grabbed and assaulted by the sheriffs as the police stood by and let them. She has photographic evidence of bruising to her arm, which left marks in the shape of finger prints where she had been physically manhandled by the sheriffs, and her nose was also bashed. As mentioned above, we were all being polite and not-resisting, and yet suddenly without warning, they grabbed her from behind and assaulted her.
- “… while another refused to leave and had to be physically escorted from the premises.” This is misleading as well. What actually happened was that one squatter who had been staying in Well Furnished effectively had to remove not only her things, but those of the squatter who had left early that morning to go to work, and also some electrical goods belonging to someone else. The sheriffs originally said that if she left, someone else could come back into the building to help carry stuff out, but when she phoned the squatters who had already left the building to ask for help and to coordinate the changeover she was told that they were refusing to let anyone else back in. It took a considerable amount of time to try to pack her clothes and those of the person who was out at work, given that the eviction wasn’t expected until 7 and 24 September. It wasn’t possible for her to remove all those belongings without assistance. When she crossed the courtyard, she realised that just outside the gate were sheriffs with barking dogs straining at their leads. She was asked to leave the premises, but explained that she had an autistic spectrum disorder and, further, was afraid of dogs and wanted the dogs to be moved away. The sheriffs declined to move the dogs and started moving towards her and saying something about physically removing her from the premises. Again, we had been very polite and hadn’t been resisting the eviction, and that person had clearly made her phobia about dogs known to the sheriffs who ignored her repeated pleas to remove the dogs. The dogs were not very well controlled, in fact they were particularly badly behaved as the dog handler was later witnessed yanking the dog back on its lead and shouting “Korva!” (which we understand is a Polish swear word) at it. The squatter was terrified of the dogs and eventually a police officer came in through the gate and offered to help the squatter leave, promising to stay at all times between the dog and the squatter as she left the building. If the sheriffs had complied with the reasonable request to move the dogs round the corner away from someone who was visibly and audibly terrified of the dogs, who had notified them that she had an autistic spectrum disorder, then it would not have been necessary for the police officer to come to her assistance.