Saturday, 30 May 2015

First person jailed for squatting

The first person to be prosecuted under the new squatting law was jailed after being found in a housing association flat in London.

Alex Haigh, 21, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison on 19 September for squatting in a London & Quadrant flat in Cumberland Street, Pimlico.

Anthony Ismond, 46, also admitted squatting and was fined by Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court £100 and £15 costs.

Michelle Blake, 33, has also pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and is awaiting sentencing.

The address for all three was ‘of no fixed abode’ and they were all charged with breaking section 144(1) and (5) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Act 2012.

They were arrested on 2 September, the day after the new squatting law came into effect. The Crown Prosecution service said it believed this was the first time someone had been jailed under the new law. Charities have voiced concerns that the legislation will lead to a rise in homelessness.

The L&Q property became vacant on 19 August and its staff were showing people round it on 24 August when they discovered people were squatting there. The housing association started to take action as was previously done, taking the squatters to court as a civil matter to prove they have been trespassing to get them evicted.

But when police arrested Mr Ismond on an unrelated matter on 2 September he named the Cumberland Street property as his home and took the police there. When the police discovered Ms Blake and Mr Haigh at the property and identified it as a squat the three were immediately arrested.

An L&Q spokesperson said: ‘After we had begun our own action to seek the removal of three people from 33A Cumberland Street under the previous legislation, the police informed us that they had arrested the people concerned. Under new legislation, the police can arrest and prosecute people for squatting.’

Jonathan Glanz, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: ‘We support the police action and that fact that this house has now been made available to somebody genuinely in need who is waiting for a home.

‘We have found that the new powers have helped to speed up the process of removing squatters who illegally occupy homes, and enables social housing providers to make properties available again for people on housing lists more quickly than was previously possible.’

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