21 year old Alex Haigh has been the first person to be jailed under “Section 144”, the recent UK anti homelessness/squatting laws. Alex is an apprentice bricklayer from Plymouth who moved to London to look for work. He shared a long term empty housing association flat in Cumberland Street, Islington with two other people, Anthony Ismond and Michelle Blake. Antony was fined 100 quid whilst Michelle has yet to be sentenced. All pleaded guilty, for which Alex then got 12 weeks in jail time.
Squatting in the UK had long been regarded as a civil matter, and the London housing association that owned the house had begun a process legal eviction through the civil courts. The London Met, that bastion of anti poverty thuggery and racism decided, with the support of the Con/Dem coalition policy, decided to take matters into their own hands.
And so continues the long historical trait of framing the question of structural inequality by criminalising those of us on the “wrong” side of the equation. The justice system functions as a process of normalisation of the idea that houses are an private assets, rather than things we make to fulfill basic human social needs. Our individual circumstances of poverty is used as against us to as a tool of individual and collective social control. Find yourself homeless and surrounded by potential unused homes? Well the logic of assets and markets has no room for you in the inn. Their jails however has endless rotation room for us poor.
From the good folks at Schnews
Since the government passed the bill, ministers have been urging the Met to come down hard on squatters to act as a ‘deterrent’. The government says it expects around 4,200 squatters to be prosecuted each year. What’s a few ruined lives when there are vacant buildings at risk of being occupied eh?
Danny Beltane of SNOB(aha) the Brighton squatters association. “This is a far harsher sentence than anyone expected – this smacks of the kind of punitive sentencing handed out after the riots. This is the real class war. How can they justify taking someone from a situatuation where they were provoding for themselves and forcing them into state incarceration at the cost of thousands a week?”
Alex and his friends were arrested around 24 hours before the first raid in Brighton that SchNEWS reported on, though overall the earliest eviction we know about (so far) was of a crew based in Street, Somerset. Despite living there for a couple of months and not causing any problems, bored local cops decided to kick in the door and arrest everyone inside at 9am on Saturday 1st September. If anyone can prove they were nicked under section 144 earlier, we’ll send them a free graphics book.
With the wild variations in enforcement – stretching from a friendly bobby asking if you’d mind leaving, to three months inside (for a guilty plea!) – many squatters are looking towards the thousands of vacant commercial and industrial properties. Unsurprisingly the lobbyists behind criminalisation are already pushing for the law to be extended and backbench Tories are lining up to lend the latest bandwagon their support. Chatham MP Tracey Crouch snarled “it’s important that we look into [non-residential squatting] and try and outlaw it as soon as possible” – no doubt before retreating to one of her taxpayer funded homes.
For advice and support to help hold on to your home and keep you out of prison you could do worse than the Squatters’ Legal Network.
I’ve no idea if people have been charged/sentenced etc for squatting in Ireland, but maybe readers might be able to through some light on that