Sunday, 20 November 2011

Tories In Squatting Crackdown

Posted on Occupied Times,

Westminster’s war on squatters will hit protest camps next, housing activists have warned.

Members of Squatters’ Action For Secure Homes issued a call for solidarity this week after 15 appeared in Westminster Magistrates Court charged with unlawful assembly for their part in an overnight protest outside Parliament.

The activists’ lawyer Raj Chada said last week he had won a two-week adjournment to lobby Crown prosecutors to drop the case, since the charges stem from legislation which has technically been repealed.

The Serious Organised Crime and Policing Act bars “unauthorised” demonstrations within a square kilometre of Parliament — but the government’s Police Reform Act, which has been passed but not yet come into force, scales down the scope of the ban to protests in Parliament Square directly outside the House.

Mr Chada appeared confident of an acquittal, saying the Crown had until 23 November to decide.

But spokesman Rueben Taylor warned the vilification of squatters and the Occupy movement was “intimately connected.”

“We are being ruled by a government who believes that property is more important than people, and is passing violent and draconian laws to silence those who are losing out.

“Certain Tories have also made it clear that if they would like nothing better than to extend these laws against squatting to cover other types of properties, and thereby to criminalise occupation as a form of protest – in universities, workplaces, and public places.”

Meanwhile the current proposals were “just a test”.

“If they are allowed to get away with it, we will undoubtedly see even more repressive laws being pushed through in the coming months,” he warned.

The charges stem from a 150-strong campout near the Houses of Parliament earlier this month after justice secretary Ken Clarke rammed through an amendment criminalising squatting in residential buildings.

Police ordered the demonstrators to disperse, then kettled around 50 protesters who refused to leave.

The amendment – tacked on just six days before it was passed and before publication of the government’s consultation report – threatens homeless people in residential buildings with fines of up to £5,000 and up to a year behind bars.

Around 35,000 people in Britain will lose their home between now and Christmas, according to estimates from housing charity Shelter — an average one person every two minutes.

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