Sunday, 20 April 2014

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.’

Readers' comments (17)

  • Eric Blair

    It appears, then, that three homeless people have been gaoled under what amounts to vagrancy laws. Given the economic climate our prisons will be full to bursting in a few years. The solution? I fear it will be to build more prisons.

    As facilities for homeless people are cut back squatting might be their only (if desperate) option. I don't see how gaoling these people helps anyone. Now all three have criminal records.. It's all very sad.

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  • Progressive Solutions Required

    Could IH check the facts in this article - it was reported elsewhere that the flat fell vacant in 2011 - and had been empty for nearly a year before being squatted.

    This use of the new law has prevented an affordable let from being unavailable. However, the clarification of how long L&Q had kept this flat empty is needed. If it had been empty for so long then there is a clear issue to be explained.

    It is good and correct that this flat is now being let.

    I wonder when the first case fitting the hysterical reason for passing the law will occur. Has anyone heard of a squatter being taken to court for stealing someone's home whilst on holiday, in hospital, or having popped down the shops yet?

    At least in this case L&Q were 'on the case' with action under the previous legislation (which oddly criminalisation supported denied existed). What is without argument though is that the new law has made restoring this flat from squatting quicker, even if it was empty for such a long time prior to neing squatted.

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  • Many thanks for your comment. L&Q informed us other reports were incorrect and the property had only been void since 19 August.
    Hopefully this clarifies.

  • Jono

    Good to see the police and justice system upholding homeowner property rights.

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  • Rick Campbell

    What about the squatters in Downing Street?

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  • Joe Halewood

    Written by my alter ego, Mr Angry from Purley...

    Just how much of my taxes does it cost to keep this vagrant criminal in jail? What £1000 per week and court costs on top of that! But the delinquent will be out again in 6 weeks, have nowhere to go and doubtless squat again. That means more court costs and more tax cost after this criminal vagrant is put back inside for longer next time!!

    No doubt these criminals will soon learn to play the system too. Probably calling wardens plebs so they prolong their sentences and keep a roof over their heads all at my taxpayer cost. What next appealling to the federalist EU court that releasing them denies them the right to a home life and a roof over their heads!!

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  • Progressive Solutions Required

    Thanks for clearing that up Editor

    To update my post then:


    It is good and correct that this flat is now being let, and the time occupied by squatters minimised both by L&Q's action and then by the action of the Police.

    At least in this case L&Q were 'on the case' with action under the previous legislation (which oddly criminalisation supported denied existed).

    I wonder when the first case fitting the hysterical reason for passing the new law will occur. Has anyone heard of a squatter being taken to court for stealing someone's home whilst on holiday, in hospital, or having popped down the shops yet?

    I do hope L&Q gain corrections from the other publications as these painted the landlord in a very bad light indeed.

    @Joe - ironically, these three chaps will not be entitled to consideration for housing when they are released from prison, will have additional consideration for benefit, and be treated as vulnerable in both considerations.

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  • Progressive Solutions Required

    Correction:

    @Joe - ironically, these three chaps will now be entitled to consideration for housing when they are released from prison, will have additional consideration for benefit, and be treated as vulnerable in both considerations.

    How my finger drifted from w to t is beyond me as they are two fingers apart!

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  • There will not be many squatters like this man - who willingly admit to police that they are indeed squatters.

    We predict more usual route will be for squatters to say they entered into a tenancy agreement with persons unknown, and thus claim to be victims of a fraudulent letting.

    Police are after all, well aware of large number of real fraudulent lets (its not in news because its hard to find fraudsters and police don't see it as a "real crime" anyway).
    The police will then have to give occupants the benefit of doubt on the assumption it could be a real fraudulent let & will be reluctant to intervene.

    LettingFocus.com

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  • Joe Halewood

    Chris - I was told earlier today if he is released at 6 weeks then it wont apply. So perversely it is in his interest to complete his full sentence and not be released early!!! (Oh dear now my alter ego is livid over cost again...)

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  • The financial cost is irrelevant. Why on earth would you let criminals off just because of the cost of policing, prosecution, courts costs and the costs of prison. They idea that costs of prohibitive to enforcing the law is ridiculous. Next these crackers will be saying the law shoud only be enforced where a profit can be made...

    People should be prosecuted for grand theft in exactly the same way as for stealing a loaf of bread. The fact that loaf of bread costs 0.80p is irrelevant. Totally irrelevant.

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  • Please read: Criminalising squatting hurts the poor and benefits the rich
    By Joseph Blake, The Guardian, August 31, 2012

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  • Maybe neighbours of this squatters or other tenants living in the area can tell us their own version of what went on with this property?

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  • Squaring the SQUASH "Empty for 12 months" and Quadrant "became vacant in late August 2012" circle.

    Two thoughts occur.

    1 - SQUASH are lying/dissembling, which would not be a surprise given the way they reported the stats on the replies to the legislation (forgot to mention that of the 2100 people against the law 1990 were from their own boilerplate campaign), plus their highly inventive £790m figure for the cost of the law.

    2 - That the T for the flat had paid the rent while it was empty for some months, in which circumstances the HA would not / could not intervene lawfully.

    ML

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  • Melvin Bone

    'police arrested Mr Ismond on an unrelated matter '

    Seems like Mr Ismond dobbed his fellow squatters in.

    It seems as if the new law worked quickly and effectively in this instance. You cannot moan at the landlord for a flat being empty for less than a week...Can you?

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  • Occupying someone else's property is illegal. They got caught, taken to court, and punished. What's the issue?

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  • munchboss

    has anyone taken into acount that when these people leave jail , as they are leaving an institution then the council and h/a has a legal duty to house them , 10yrs on a waiting list or 12 weeks with food and entertainment and work provided , will this new law relieve the houseing problem or make it worse ????????? YOU DECIDE ITS YOURE COUNTRY

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  • Tony Cook

    For what it's worth, squatting had been a civil rather than a criminal matter for centuries, a distinction going back to the Magna Carta. In criminalising the occupation of empty properties with no commensurate action to penalise landlords for leaving properties empty in the first place, this will only work to make a bad situation worse.

    If it could be argued that squatting was unnecessary - in that basic housing provision was available for all - they could at least argue the case for imprisonment from the moral high ground. As it is this will render such inmates the de facto status of political prisoners - punished for being victims of a housing crisis not of their own making.

    And if being caught means going to jail, one may as well get organised and barricade, and so it will escalate?

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