Chichester squatters evicted after new legislation comes into force

Friary Close
Friary Close

Squatters at a property in Chichester were evicted as squatting became a criminal offence last Saturday (September 1).

The private owners of the property in Friary Close had been seeking a court order to remove the squatters and this became easier for them when squatting in a residential building became a criminal offence.

Police attended the eviction on Saturday, the day the law came into force, and the squatters were said to have left of their own accord.

Sussex Police has said: “On Saturday, Chichester Police assisted a local resident in regaining their residential building which trespassers had control of. Officers entered the building in Friary Close and removed seven people from the premises. All left peacefully on request. There were no arrests.”

Sergeant Christopher White from Chichester Police said: “Officers from the local neighbourhood policing team responded to the resident’s request. A local homelessness service provider was made aware of the incident and if required was ready to help the seven people who were removed from the premises. The house was secured shortly after by the owner’s agent.”

These new powers have been enforced all over the country since the weekend.

Stonepillow chief executive Sylvie Johnston said: “We recognise that squatting is against the law and therefore a system to protect home-owners and to penalise law-breakers is right.

“However for the system to be effective and meaningful, the roots of the reasons why people choose to become squatters need to be resolved.

“It is also worth noting that many of the properties occupied as squats are ‘disused, empty buildings’ and some squatters choose this option as opposed to sleeping rough.

“Stonepillow is not convinced that making squatting a criminal offence will reduce or eliminate the problem but it certainly will not resolve homelessness.”

Sussex Police has said new legislation applies when someone has entered a property illegally or broken in without the land-owners permission. This means that to take action the police must have reasonable suspicion the property has been entered without permission of the land-owner, so in a case where someone has entered the property legally, ie through a tenancy agreement which has later expired, this remains a civil issue rather than a criminal one.

The maximum penalty for squatting will be six months’ imprisonment or a £5,000 fine from September 1. To report an illegal squat, call Sussex Police on 101, or in the case of an emergency 999.