Posted by: Emily Twinch02/10/2012
The first person has been jailed for squatting. A 21-year-old man was sentenced to 12 weeks for squatting in a housing association flat in Pimlico.
Separately a homeless man last month reportedly told a court he stole a vodka drink from Marks & Spencer to go to jail and get a roof over his head.
John Golden, 51, apparently begged the judge to send him to jail so he didn’t have to sleep on the streets. Twenty-one-year Alex Haigh – the man who was jailed for squatting – probably didn’t feel quite the same. He sounds like a single man who probably didn’t want to end up in prison.
His father, Hugh, told the Evening Standard newspaper his son was an apprentice bricklayer who had come to London from Plymouth in July to seek work. But both men are linked because they were homeless, and would not be considered in priority need for housing by local authorities.
Jailing someone who is homeless for six months or fining them £5,000 seems pretty harsh. They may well be in a state of desperation.
There have been cases reported in the press where people have gone on holiday to find squatters have moved in and done terrible damage to their properties while they were away. Prosecuting in these cases, or where an empty home has been vandalised, seems understandable. But if someone is genuinely homeless and trying to get out of the cold – is jailing them justifiable?
Government figures show there are about 720,000 empty homes in England at the moment. Squatters rights group Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes said when Mr Haigh was jailed the ‘real crime’ was by the people not bringing empty properties back into use. This law will punish the victims of the housing crisis, they say.
But maybe for homeless people like Mr Golden this law is a good thing. The judge in his case declined his request to be sent to jail, and fined him instead. Perhaps he’ll try squatting now, because there seems more chance of him achieving his aim through that route.
From Who cares?
Analysis of the latest developments in supported housing, homelessness and work with vulnerable people