The eviction of St. Agnes Place, South london

marksimonbrown mark at
Thu Dec 1 10:53:29 GMT 2005

On Tuesday 29th November, the illegal eviction took place of St 
Agnes Place. Residents here were thrown out onto the freezing street 
with nowhere to go, even though their hearing for possession of the 
property was not scheduled until mid-december. This was a totally 
illegal action by baliffs and police, as papers were not served. The 
police operation involved 200 police officers, with mounted police.

One resident, who remained barricaded in one house until late in the 
evening, was removed by a territorial armed police unit after having 
threatened to set alight to himself, and was extremely badly beaten 
in the street, receiving several brutal blows to the head with 

Squatters were not allowed to retrieve their belongings by the 
evening, meaning some people were without their own sleeping bags, 
bedding ..etc. This remained the case until late afternoon 
Wednesday. The reason given for this was that baliffs were still 
going from house-to-house, and that the house were a health and 
safety hazard (presumably because of the removal of floorboards).

The active members of the community are set to pursue a legal 

The right-wing media and councillors portray the squatters of St. 
Agnes as free-loading parasites. While this may be true for some 
(certainly not all), the fact remains is that the real parasite is 
local councillor Fichett, who "misplaced" £3 million of taxpayers 
money, and yet, has incredibly been allowed to keep his job.
Lambeth Council cite the lost rental income from properties on the 
street over 30 years, which is a half-truth since Lambeth waved away 
it's rights to rental income when they abandoned these properties 
(infact, squatters over the years have neglected to get their shit 
together and attain ownership of properties on the street under the 
old 12-year rule). 

The council publicised their new plans for the area where the street 
exists, which include new leisure facilities for the community, plus 
60 social housing units. It is unfortunate that the council was seen 
not to embrace the positive aspects to life on the street, and weigh 
the pros and cons of the cost of eviction, demolition and re-build 
and the architectural quality of these rows rows of housing in the 
decision. With the alcohol-soakled wave of anti-social behaviour 
washing across UK's urban areas in recent years, the council should 
have considered the long-term legacy of the positive aspects of this 
street such as the remarkable lack of hard drugs (as opposed to any 
sink-estate or town block housing estate). St Agnes Place was voted 
as UK's safest street in a survey 2 years ago. Councillors neglected 
to work more closely with residents, such as through positive 
engagment in community projects which couild have transformed the 
fertile ground of community-based solutions.

Meanwhile, the kids adventure playground next door to the street 
remains under threat from development.

WAKE FOR ST AGNES PLACE, took place on the evening of the 
eviction "To celebrate 30 years of diversity and community, a 
celebration for St Agnes Place by the supporters of St Agnes Place 
community and evicted residents gathered outside the Town Hall in 
Brixton. They celebrated their community and praised residents still 
refusing to leave their homes. "Lambeth Council are not only corrupt 
but are unlawful in their actions" one supporter was quoted as 
saying. There was a large and sympathetic press presence and all 
present resolved to continue the struggle until Lambeth Councillors 
responsible are brought to justice.

History of St Agnes Place
Squatters first moved in to St Agnes Place in late 1974, some of its 
houses having been empty for 14 years. St Agnes Place was given new 
life by the squatter occupants. By April 1976, 65 people were 
squatting there. In April 1976, Lambeth Council announced a five-
point plan of attack:

Immediate eviction for single squatters.
Power supply cut-offs to squatted premises.

More houses to be ''sealed up'' or ''made uninhabitable'' to deter 

Council-funded groups to have their grants cut if they tolerated 
squatting. The use of private investigators to help deal with 
squatters. In addition, the crackdown on squatters involved the 
demolition of houses long before sites were actually required. In 
particular, Villa Road and St Agnes Place were due to be pulled down 
for two open spaces. Although the Council readily admitted that it 
would not have enough money to complete either scheme for five 
years, it insisted it wanted to demolish the houses to get rid of 
the squatters as quickly as possible.

By December 1976 almost 100 people were squatting in St Agnes Place 
and, anxious to ensure this number did not increase, the Council 
gutted a number of houses immediately the tenants moved out. On 10 
December, it expected to do the same to No 85 without too much 
difficulty. The tenant, 78-year-old Ruby Thompson who had lived 
there for 30 years was leaving, but as she went out squatters 
entered the house from the rear and occupied the two top floors, 
while workers wrecked her ground floor flat. (The workers were non-
union because UCATT, the building workers union, had instructed its 
members to black work involving the gutting of good homes.) The 
press had been alerted to the event and lambasted the Council. The 
Evening Standard headlined its story ''Council "vandals" are defied 
by squatters'', and the Sunday Times later ran an editorial under a 
similar headline.

Councils were being urged to cut spending, and yet here was a 
council deliberately wrecking perfectly good homes for no reason 
other than a vendetta against squatters. Council-bashing in the 
press, particularly of Labour councils, became a suitable 
alternative to squatter-bashing, at least for a while. There was 
strong opposition within the Labour Group of the Labour-controlled 
Council for the anti-squatting measures policy. Norwood councillor 
Ted Knight (later to become the Leader of the new left-dominated 
Labour administration in 1978) was quoted as saying:

''The Council''s policies are bankrupt. They talk to the waiting 
list and say it is because of squatters. They talk to the homeless 
and say it is because of the waiting list. And yet we still have 
vast quantities of empty property.''

Indeed, the administrative resources needed to implement the policy 
were not available and, although some unlucky squatters suffered, 
squatting continued largely unabated in Lambeth. Any reduction in 
their number was due to the Council carrying out its redevelopment 
programme rather than to its punitive policy. The policy finally 
foundered when the Council underestimated the strength of the 
opposition to it and overplayed its hand at St Agnes Place.

On 19 January 1977, the occupants of St Agnes Place were awakened by 
the sound of a huge crane rigged up with a demolition ball moving 
into position outside. The street was closed off by police coaches 
parked across the road. The squatters resisted, and with the help of 
Lambeth Community Law Centre, hurriedly and successfully applied for 
an injunction to halt the demolition but not before 16 houses had 
been wrecked, 10 irretrievably.

The outcry which this affair caused brought an end to the Council''s 
most rabidly anti-squatting policies. On 25 January the Labour Group 
voted to think again about the future of St Agnes Place and later it 
agreed to allow the squatters to remain until the park could be laid 
out. Many councillors were angered by the deceit that had surrounded 
sending in demolition contractors as the decision had been kept 
secret from all but a handful of high-ranking officers and 
councillors. Even the police were said to have been misled when 
asked to attend. They were told to come to assist in an eviction and 
the officer in charge of the operation was later quoted as saying 
that he hoped never again to be involved in anything similar.

The fight for St Agnes Place has been a remarkable one. At times 
official attitudes were completely at odds with the needs of local 
people. For example, Councillor Carey, leader of the Conservative 
Group, had seconded the proposal to demolish St Agnes Place at a 
Planning Committee meeting with the memorable suggestion that there 
were already too many people living in Lambeth and ''to make sure 
that the extra population doesn''t stay, we should demolish houses 
that encourage them to do so.''

In the aftermath of the St Agnes Place affair, the entire ''get 
tough on squatting'' steamroller ground to a halt, not only in 
Lambeth, but elsewhere. The continuing presence of squatters in St 
Agnes Place, constituted a victory for all squatters. The outcome of 
these struggles, moreover, comprised a victory for the homeless in 
Lambeth, because it prevented the loss of housing that the original 
plans entailed. The role of squatting in forcing policy changes out 
of Lambeth Council had been absolutely crucial. As Lambeth''s 
Assistant Director of Housing remarked ''If it wasn''t for squatter 
pressure we''d have all these [houses] down months ago and nobody 
would have noticed.''

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