Today's Daily Mail hatchet job on Advisory Service for Squatters

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Mar 6 01:50:15 GMT 2011

Horrible, I trust ASS are responding.
Bristol squatters have just been evicted from a 
warehouse in Unity Street owned by Daily Mail and 
General Trust subsidiary Northcliffe BTW.

Professional agencies marketing empty homes to 
potential SQUATTERS (and they'll even help you break in for a fee!)
By Paul Bracchi - Last updated at 8:55 AM on 5th March 2011

The advert wouldn’t look out of place in any 
estate agent’s window: ‘Ground floor Victorian 
flat. Garden. Parking. Lovely Road. Five minutes from Woking station.’
The property is being ‘marketed’ — along with 
scores of others — from the third-floor office of 
a building near a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in an alleyway in East London.
The addresses are displayed on a noticeboard on 
the wall. Most give just the house number and the 
street: there’s one in Winnington Road, N2 
Abbey Road NW18 
 Gypsy Road Gardens SE27 
 Normandy Road NW10.
‘Take your pick,’ says a young woman with short 
spiky hair who is manning the premises.
The properties put up on the noticeboard have one 
thing in common. They are empty. Well, for the 
moment at least. Nor will it cost the stream of 
‘customers’ looking for somewhere to live, who 
troop in and out of these premises in Whitechapel 
every day, a penny to move in.
All that is needed is a ‘crowbar, torch and 
screwdriver’ (the tools are featured on flyers 
and posters in the office) to break in if an open 
window or unlocked door cannot be found.
If you don’t have a house-breaking kit to hand, 
don’t worry: the Advisory Service For Squatters 
(ASS) knows a man who does. Matt has a posting on 
the ASS website called ‘handyman services’ 
offering ‘electrician work, plumbing, gas work, locksmith’.
‘I can help u open secure buildings,’ he writes. 
‘I have my own tools. Don’t be afraid to call me, 
even if u have problem with [sic] something is not listed.’
Matt, it turns out, is a 20-year-old Hungarian. 
He works — when he is not breaking the law — as 
an operator in the control room of a taxi firm.
I pose as a squatter, and Matt tells me he had 
‘opened’ more than 100 properties for squatters, 
mainly in London, for a ‘small fee’.
‘There are many ways to get in if you cannot get 
in through an open window or door,’ he boasts. 
‘You can force the window, and then just fix it 
or replace the damage. You just have to make it 
invisible. The police can’t do anything then.’
He’s right, sadly. This area of the law isn’t 
worth the paper it’s written on, as scores of 
middle-class homeowners — more affluent post 
codes are increasingly being targeted — are now 
finding to their cost in the capital and elsewhere.
Take ‘Winnington Road’, for example, one of the 
addresses on that insidious ‘hit-list’ back at 
the HQ of the Advisory Service for Squatters. The 
house, it transpires, is in Hampstead. It was 
built two years ago but has only recently been sold.
The new owners, a couple in their 40s, were 
visiting the property when we arrived to check it 
out. They were horrified to discover that their 
home, worth around £8 million, might be about to 
be invaded. They said they would be installing 
‘security immediately — someone to stay here day 
and night’ until they moved in.
Neighbours told us they had been visited by 
police warning them about the threat of squatters in the area.
Squatting itself is not illegal, for England is 
one of the few countries in the world that 
recognises so-called ‘squatters’ rights’. But 
breaking into a ‘vacant’ building — a skill in 
which Matt the Handyman excels — to gain occupation is.
Not that there is fat chance of ‘Matt’ or any 
other culprit being prosecuted. As the ASS 
gleefully points out in their handbook, police 
can only make an arrest ‘if there were 
witnesses’, and the ‘ASS know the law better than 
most owners or their solicitors, and better than many judges’.
In other words, they know every loophole in the 
book. So much so that volunteers from the group 
often represent fellow squatters in court during 
eviction proceedings. They also help organise 
‘Practical Squatting Evenings’ at locations 
throughout London, where they provide workshops on how to occupy homes.
More alarmingly, squatters all over Britain use 
the group’s website and social networking sites 
such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with 
each other and share ‘intelligence’ about 
potential squats — or ‘empties’ as they are known 
in this pernicious subculture.
The importance of  this ‘research’ is spelt out 
in an 83-page booklet, published by the ASS, 
called the Squatters Handbook (yours for £1.50). 
‘There are two important things that you should 
try to find out about a place, especially if you 
are going to do a lot of work on it: who owns it, and what are their plans?’
I dread to think what we’ll discover when we finally get our house back
The information, potential squatters are told, 
can usually be found through the Land Registry 
(‘each search costs £4’) and by scouring the 
planning register at the town hall.
The results of this detective work are often 
posted on squatters’ forums on the internet, 
along with photographs of properties. One such 
forum has more than 12,000 members; another, Squatters Unite, has 300 members.
It would be difficult to imagine a more cynical 
and co-ordinated assault on the property owning 
class, a campaign spearheaded by the wretched Advisory Service for Squatters.
Their ‘calling card’ is becoming as ubiquitous in 
London as legitimate estate agents boards: it’s a 
legal notice from the Squatters Handbook.
One such ‘notice’ was left in the window of the 
five-bedroom house John Hamilton-Brown was renovating in North London.
‘Take Notice,’ it warned, ‘that we live in this 
property, it is our home and we intend to stay here 

‘That any entry or attempt to enter these 
premises without our permission is therefore a 
criminal offence ... That if you attempt to enter 
by violence we will prosecute you. You may 
receive a sentence of up to six months’ 
imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000; that 
if you want to get us out you will have to issue 
a claim for possession in the County Court or in the High Court.’
That was in January, shortly after 36-year-old Mr 
Hamilton-Brown bought the £1 million property 
with the intention of turning it into a home for 
his wife Rebecca and their two daughters, aged 
four and two. He is still waiting to get back in.
‘It breaks my heart to walk past the house with 
the kids and be asked by our oldest “When can we 
move in?” and “Why can’t we go inside and have a 
look?” explained a weary, quietly furious Mr Hamilton-Brown.
‘I dread to think what we’ll discover when we 
finally get our house back. The neighbours tell 
me they have been unable to sleep because these 
scroungers have been holding parties until five 
or six in the morning most nights, then sleeping it off in the day.’
About a dozen squatters from France, Spain, 
Poland and England forced a window in the early 
hours to get in. There were no witnesses, so he 
couldn’t call the police because it was a civil 
matter. His only option was to go to court.
Mr Hamilton-Brown was not eligible for Legal Aid, 
so he represented himself to save money. The 
squatters, on the other hand, did have a 
solicitor. Because they were EU citizens and 
unemployed, they qualified for free legal advice.
‘It’s just wrong,’ said Mr Hamilton-Brown.
After four trips to court and nearly two 
blood-pressure raising months — when, as the Mail 
reported last week, he was forced to communicate 
with the squatters through his own letterbox — 
they are finally due to be evicted next week.
‘No doubt they’re already planning their next 
move, and another family will be forced to go 
through what we have been through,’ said Mr 
Hamilton-Brown, who has been living with his family in a flat nearby.
Such stories are, alas, becoming commonplace. 
Statistics released by legal publisher Sweet & 
Maxwell show that 29 cases related to squatters 
and trespassers were heard in the High Court in 
the year to December 2009, the most up-to-date 
figures available. This compares with just 10 the 
previous year, two in 2007, and just one in 2005.
This, however, represents only the tip of the 
iceberg, because, traditionally, very few 
prosecutions against squatters reach this stage. 
The squatters are too clever for that, dragging 
out the legal process until the last possible 
moment, then moving on before an actual court hearing is due.
The government said it was now ‘considering 
strengthening the law to give homeowners more rights’
Today, there are few areas of Britain’s major 
cities which aren’t blighted by squatters. 
Numbers have been boosted by an influx of 
squatters from Europe, forced out by debt crises in their own countries.
And one of their first ports of call when they 
arrive in Britain is the Advisory Service for 
Squatters in Whitechapel. Take the following 
appeal that was recently posted on the ASS 
website. It was from a 21-year-old unemployed 
Latvian and is far from an isolated example.
‘Can someone lend me a drill,’ he writes. ‘I need 
to open a squat 
 no one I know has one. Or, you 
can come with me to open it, and I’ll give you the best room.’
The Latvian was believed to have been among the 
30-strong group who took over the former home of 
ITV director John Ormerod in Highgate on Boxing 
Day before being removed by bailiffs.
Such tactics are, whatever they might say 
publicly, encouraged by the ASS — a collective funded by private donations.
Among the volunteers on duty this week, when a 
Mail reporter posing as a ‘first-time’ squatter 
visited the premises, was the young woman with 
short spiky hair we referred to earlier. Her name is Jess.
She was sitting on the floor advising a couple 
about a forthcoming court case. Her advice to our 
reporter about how to gain entry to a property: ‘Use a crowbar.’
‘You can do anything if no one sees you,’ she 
said. ‘I wouldn’t worry about CCTV — there is 
more footage in London than there are people to watch it.
‘But if you are going to use tools, then you need 
someone to be on the lookout. If the cops come, 
and even if it is as plain as day that you are 
holding a crowbar, just drop it, because then it 
is just your word against theirs.’
Jess gave the reporter a copy of the Squatters 
Handbook. On Page 21, there are detailed 
instructions, along with a diagram, of how to take apart locks.
‘Technically, changing a lock is criminal damage, 
but it is the first thing you need to do,’ Jess said.
Another tip on the same page: break in during the 
day, and wear council-style overalls to avoid 
suspicion. ‘Some places are almost impossible to 
get into without making a  lot of noise and 
alerting neighbours. If this is the case, choose 
a sensible time of the day — most people get a 
bit jumpy if they hear suspicious noises at 
night. Some people [squatters] wear 
high-visibility vests and go in during the day.’
Or how about this piece of advice: ‘If there is 
an alarm, it could be worth setting it off as an 
experiment to see what response there is and how much time you might have.
Systems vary, but sensors can sometimes be 
de-activated by covering them in tape or by 
removing the batteries, and the noise can be 
dulled on some alarms by piling on a few coats.
‘Ask around for more detailed advice, but 
normally the best policy is to ignore the alarm, 
secure the building and worry about it afterwards.’
The people who run the ASS are rather coy about 
revealing their identity, preferring to give only their Christian names.
But the group, we have learned, rent their office 
from the co-owners of the building.
Among them is Sonia Markham, a director of the 
radical publication the Friends of Freedom Press, 
which supports squatters and has an office in the same building.
She is also the sister-in-law of the late Corin 
Redgrave, actor, prominent Trotskyist, and member 
of the Workers Revolutionary Party.
Mrs Markham lives with her husband in a street in 
leafy Wandsworth where homes sell for £1 million. 
Would she like squatters moving into her front room?
‘If it were my house, I wouldn’t be particularly 
pleased,’ she admitted this week. She insists, 
however, that she did not condone squatters 
taking the law into their own  hands, and said 
she had ‘no connection’ with the Squatters 
Advisory Service — which seems puzzling.
In the wake of the slew of damaging headlines 
about squatters in recent months, the government 
said it was now ‘considering strengthening the 
law to give homeowners more rights’.
Shamefully, for the moment at least, squatters’ rights rule.

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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