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Squatting handbook causes outrage

May 22 2009
The Squatter‘s Handbook is designed to offer practical advice to individuals seeking shelter in empty properties, say authors The authors of a handbook for squatters have replied angrily that newspaper coverage of their advice service is another case of the media and politicians missing the point. On 2nd June 2008, the Daily Telegraph announced 'Squatters taught to pick locks by council leaflet', the Star boasted '¬¨¬£2 Squatters Guide Has Tips on Burglary' and one German news website simply plumped for 'Free Advice on Stealing Someone's Home'. All of these were completely inaccurate, said the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS). The 12th edition of their Squatter's Handbook, first published in 1974, is designed to offer practical advice to individuals seeking shelter in empty properties. Eric Pickles, Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar, told the House of Commons: "Homeowners will be horrified that town halls are giving squatters the green light to break into law-abiding citizens' homes... Promoting such lawlessness is breathtaking, but is sadly an indictment of social breakdown that has become rife under Labour and the prevalence of 'human rights' laws. This revelation coupled with the fact violent crime is doubling blows apart Labour's claim to be the party of law and order." The ASS said they never intended their publication to be "used as a stick to beat Labour with". In a statement to the press, the group said: "The ASS does not promote lawlessness, as squatting is still legal. We help disadvantaged people to find housing, to help themselves when no one else will. We often recommend that people who are eligible for Priority Need Housing apply to their local council." They added that by inhabiting abandoned buildings and repairing damages made by local youths or drug addicts, squatters were, in fact, helping the local community. Last month a group of our readers have been on the receiving end of misunderstanding of the 1994 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act, which deals with squatters' rights. On June 17th, a group of seven people were evicted from an unused property off Tottenham Court Road, in central London, after a two-hour stand-off with local police and the landlord. The squatters, five men and two women of various ages and backgrounds, had legally entered the property, a three-storey office block, through an open window and maintain they had not damaged the property in any way. Squatting is not a criminal offence; it is, however, illegal to enter any property by damaging or breaking windows and doors, and anyone found doing this could face arrest. Once squatters are legally inside a property, landlords or tenants can obtain a court order for eviction, and if this is ignored, squatters will be prosecuted. Human rights law has yet to set a precedent to help squatters maintain their pitch. At noon, bailiffs arrived, accompanied by a man who worked for the landlord, who had bought with him two youths from a nearby housing estate. Witnesses claim he verbally abused the squatters, told those present that some of the squatters had been selling drugs to the young people with him, and spoke to neighbouring businesses for their support in evicting them. The squatters deny the accusations. The bailiff presented the squatters with a court order. Shelter and Holborn Police advised the squatters that orders of this kind were not legally valid without a signature, so they refused to leave the property until the eviction was fully authorised. The police were called, and a locksmith broke into the office. A Holborn police spokesperson has since told The Pavement that they understood the eviction notice to be genuine and valid.
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