Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove and Portslade, was lending his support to Sussex Police in making the first arrests in the country using the new laws that came into force on 1st September. Mr Weatherley confirmed that Sussex Police had reviewed the new legislation and had decided to take action in relation to a property in London Road, Brighton. It had a commercial ground floor premises with a residential flat above and the occupants had previously resisted arrest, and did so again on this occasion by gluing themselves inside the building and climbing on to the roof. Three people in their twenties were arrested and taken into custody whilst two others on the roof of the building eventually made their way down and were not arrested.
Mr Weatherley had campaigned strongly for squatting to be criminalised since his election in 2010. Mr Weatherley said "I am fully behind Sussex Police taking this swift action to enforce these new powers. Squatters knew that their antisocial actions would face consequences from the 1st September 2012, so it is welcome news that the new law is being enforced. I have been campaigning since my election to parliament to have squatting criminalised, so it is encouraging to see justice finally served".
The change in the law affects only residential, not commercial, premises. The legislation has been drafted so as to only incorporate buildings which have been 'designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live'. This notably excludes commercial properties and gardens, but naturally concerns have been expressed that the legislation could result in an influx of squatters targeting office blocks, retail units, industrial buildings and garden sheds to avoid committing a criminal offence.
The Ministry of Justice has issued guidance to Judges, Courts and the police confirming that what were commonly known previously as 'squatters rights' would become redundant in relation to residential premises, thereby enabling police to forcibly enter an occupied building.
The three men arrested in Brighton appeared before Brighton Magistrates and pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were released on bail to appear before the Magistrates once again on the 30th October 2012 for a hearing to commit their case to the Crown Court for trial.
One Mother of four however is preparing a legal challenge to the new law. Irene Gardiner, who has lived as a squatter in a cottage in Newchapel, South Wales for 11 years and shares her home with her two youngest children aged 15 and 13, fears that she could now face prosecution. She says that she has paid Council Tax since moving into her home and lawyers acting for Ms Gardiner have indicated that they believe any action taken against her would be in breach of the Human Rights Act.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.