On the first of September, the laws regarding squatting changed, which means it's now fully illegal to squat in residential properties. We noted the Tipp-Exed alteration to the police Bible and found a group of squatters who felt that, as they were in a commercial property, the law change wouldn't affect them and they'd be able to remain where they were, in a property near Chancery Lane tube station in London.
When we turned up to hang out with them, they told us that the police had been over 24 hours earlier to tell them they had a day to leave before they or bailiffs turned up to forcibly evict the property.
The squat had once been a respected HQ for the Palestine liberation movement, but has obviously now changed hands. It wasn’t hard to miss though, with its boarded up windows and the big "Free Palestine" poster, not to mention the group of people loitering outside with their backpacks and sleeping bags.
Not long after, I found myself standing in the midst of what seemed to be a war cabinet. With the threatened eviction high on the agenda, the squatters put their heads together to create a master plan to stop themselves getting thrown out on the streets.
After an hour-long discussion about repelling the authorities, they came to the conclusion that waiting until 6AM to barricade the only entrance to their "home" was the best idea, specially with other residents wanting to leave before the bailiffs came over to take names and crack skulls.
Contrary to popular opinion, the squat wasn't full of grammar school escapees who gave up life in a suit for drill n bass and laying around unconscious on cold floors. Most had no other choice, as Arthur explained, "I kinda dropped out of civilisation a little bit after moving to London. For the first six months, you can't sign on or anything, then you need a postal address to be able to sign on and loads of ID – proof that I'm British, proof of my last NVQ course I was doing, etc.
"So I can't sign on. So I can't get a house. The only way to live in London without renting or buying is to squat or live in a tent in a park, like we did at St Paul's with Occupy. But since that got shut down, I've been squatting."
Since the new law came into effect, a number of squats in London and across the country have been swiftly evicted. Joe, a squatter from Northern Ireland who used to work for the civil service, had a pretty strong opinion about the new legislature. "It's social cleansing mate, it's kicking the poor people in London. I don't actually live at this squat, I'm at a residential one. The police came round the other day because the neighbours are trying to get us out. There are some hipsters that paint in the back garden, that's bullshit, but there's some nice people in there. The neighbours think we're crackheads but none of us are doing any drugs. We're expecting a pretty heavy-handed eviction."
Arthur, though had a differing opinion. "I actually don't disagree with it. I suppose you could call this place an ethical squat. Anything that belongs to a corporation, the government or anything commercial, it's OK to squat. But you hear these horror stories of people moving into someone's house when they're on holiday, those homeowners need protecting."
The government's reclamation of this property – which, the squatters explained, is being evicted because the legal owners got taken to court and got a possession order, making it a pure coincidence its being evicted around the time of the ban – doesn't seem to rankle with the squatters as hard as you might think.
"I'll be alright, probably stay with friends," said Joe. "That's the good thing about the squatting community, everyone helps each other out. I'd rather be on someone's sofa in the middle of a shitty building than out on the streets."
As the night drew on, it became a waiting game. In this time I met other residents, one of whom had missed the meeting earlier because someone had taken a shit in his Dr Martens. If I could tell you what happened I would, but as it stands no one, not even the guy himself, knew how this came about. All I can tell you is that he was covered in human shit.
Not too long into the night, we welcomed some reinforcements who had come over to lend a helping hand. With a full resistance squad on our hands we were ready for whatever they had to throw at us, even human shit. The squatters talked to me about my rights and what to do if the police were able to gain entrance. I was pretty much ready to go.
6AM quickly crept up on us and we started to put our blockade together: sofas, wood palettes, rubbish, planks of wood, a Hula hoop, a walking stick; they chucked everything they had into the barricade in an attempt to ensure the law wouldn’t set foot on the premises. In this time, the building gained a new life; everyone was hyped, breakbeats were skittering, people were shouting and the wasted were wasted.
With the barricade now firmly in place, we entered the quiet before the storm. Everyone had lost their hype at this point and it didn’t take long to hear the first thump-thump-thump through the floor to where they had their boombox blaring. The noise had alerted the squatters' presence to everyone in the street, and it didn’t take long for the police to arrive. It was just two officers at first and they cornered off the building, before about ten more officers turned up to evaluate the situation and plot a way in.
With the coppers outside, I thought it’d be a good time to exit, as I didn’t really want to run the risk of being arrested. I packed my stuff up, hopped over their barricade and ran to the back of the building to an escape route. However, as I expected, they had blocked the escape route in a bid to stop people escaping. It was a canny ploy, and a guy who seemed to be in charge told me that they were going to use me as a bargaining chip if it turned into a stand-off with the police.
But I wasn't in the mood to be arrested and lifted myself onto an adjoining wall, which I pigeon-stepped across with a 20m fall either side until I could jump to safety. And there I was back to reality. As I left, so did the cops leaving the squatters of Chancery Lane to their seized pile and to another turf battle, another day.
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