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The eviction of St. Agnes Place, South london

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  • marksimonbrown
    On Tuesday 29th November, the illegal eviction took place of St Agnes Place. Residents here were thrown out onto the freezing street with nowhere to go, even
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2005
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      On Tuesday 29th November, the illegal eviction took place of St
      Agnes Place. Residents here were thrown out onto the freezing street
      with nowhere to go, even though their hearing for possession of the
      property was not scheduled until mid-december. This was a totally
      illegal action by baliffs and police, as papers were not served. The
      police operation involved 200 police officers, with mounted police.

      One resident, who remained barricaded in one house until late in the
      evening, was removed by a territorial armed police unit after having
      threatened to set alight to himself, and was extremely badly beaten
      in the street, receiving several brutal blows to the head with

      Squatters were not allowed to retrieve their belongings by the
      evening, meaning some people were without their own sleeping bags,
      bedding ..etc. This remained the case until late afternoon
      Wednesday. The reason given for this was that baliffs were still
      going from house-to-house, and that the house were a health and
      safety hazard (presumably because of the removal of floorboards).

      The active members of the community are set to pursue a legal

      The right-wing media and councillors portray the squatters of St.
      Agnes as free-loading parasites. While this may be true for some
      (certainly not all), the fact remains is that the real parasite is
      local councillor Fichett, who "misplaced" £3 million of taxpayers
      money, and yet, has incredibly been allowed to keep his job.
      Lambeth Council cite the lost rental income from properties on the
      street over 30 years, which is a half-truth since Lambeth waved away
      it's rights to rental income when they abandoned these properties
      (infact, squatters over the years have neglected to get their shit
      together and attain ownership of properties on the street under the
      old 12-year rule).

      The council publicised their new plans for the area where the street
      exists, which include new leisure facilities for the community, plus
      60 social housing units. It is unfortunate that the council was seen
      not to embrace the positive aspects to life on the street, and weigh
      the pros and cons of the cost of eviction, demolition and re-build
      and the architectural quality of these rows rows of housing in the
      decision. With the alcohol-soakled wave of anti-social behaviour
      washing across UK's urban areas in recent years, the council should
      have considered the long-term legacy of the positive aspects of this
      street such as the remarkable lack of hard drugs (as opposed to any
      sink-estate or town block housing estate). St Agnes Place was voted
      as UK's safest street in a survey 2 years ago. Councillors neglected
      to work more closely with residents, such as through positive
      engagment in community projects which couild have transformed the
      fertile ground of community-based solutions.

      Meanwhile, the kids adventure playground next door to the street
      remains under threat from development.

      WAKE FOR ST AGNES PLACE, took place on the evening of the
      eviction "To celebrate 30 years of diversity and community, a
      celebration for St Agnes Place by the supporters of St Agnes Place
      community and evicted residents gathered outside the Town Hall in
      Brixton. They celebrated their community and praised residents still
      refusing to leave their homes. "Lambeth Council are not only corrupt
      but are unlawful in their actions" one supporter was quoted as
      saying. There was a large and sympathetic press presence and all
      present resolved to continue the struggle until Lambeth Councillors
      responsible are brought to justice.

      History of St Agnes Place
      Squatters first moved in to St Agnes Place in late 1974, some of its
      houses having been empty for 14 years. St Agnes Place was given new
      life by the squatter occupants. By April 1976, 65 people were
      squatting there. In April 1976, Lambeth Council announced a five-
      point plan of attack:

      Immediate eviction for single squatters.
      Power supply cut-offs to squatted premises.

      More houses to be ''sealed up'' or ''made uninhabitable'' to deter

      Council-funded groups to have their grants cut if they tolerated
      squatting. The use of private investigators to help deal with
      squatters. In addition, the crackdown on squatters involved the
      demolition of houses long before sites were actually required. In
      particular, Villa Road and St Agnes Place were due to be pulled down
      for two open spaces. Although the Council readily admitted that it
      would not have enough money to complete either scheme for five
      years, it insisted it wanted to demolish the houses to get rid of
      the squatters as quickly as possible.

      By December 1976 almost 100 people were squatting in St Agnes Place
      and, anxious to ensure this number did not increase, the Council
      gutted a number of houses immediately the tenants moved out. On 10
      December, it expected to do the same to No 85 without too much
      difficulty. The tenant, 78-year-old Ruby Thompson who had lived
      there for 30 years was leaving, but as she went out squatters
      entered the house from the rear and occupied the two top floors,
      while workers wrecked her ground floor flat. (The workers were non-
      union because UCATT, the building workers union, had instructed its
      members to black work involving the gutting of good homes.) The
      press had been alerted to the event and lambasted the Council. The
      Evening Standard headlined its story ''Council "vandals" are defied
      by squatters'', and the Sunday Times later ran an editorial under a
      similar headline.

      Councils were being urged to cut spending, and yet here was a
      council deliberately wrecking perfectly good homes for no reason
      other than a vendetta against squatters. Council-bashing in the
      press, particularly of Labour councils, became a suitable
      alternative to squatter-bashing, at least for a while. There was
      strong opposition within the Labour Group of the Labour-controlled
      Council for the anti-squatting measures policy. Norwood councillor
      Ted Knight (later to become the Leader of the new left-dominated
      Labour administration in 1978) was quoted as saying:

      ''The Council''s policies are bankrupt. They talk to the waiting
      list and say it is because of squatters. They talk to the homeless
      and say it is because of the waiting list. And yet we still have
      vast quantities of empty property.''

      Indeed, the administrative resources needed to implement the policy
      were not available and, although some unlucky squatters suffered,
      squatting continued largely unabated in Lambeth. Any reduction in
      their number was due to the Council carrying out its redevelopment
      programme rather than to its punitive policy. The policy finally
      foundered when the Council underestimated the strength of the
      opposition to it and overplayed its hand at St Agnes Place.

      On 19 January 1977, the occupants of St Agnes Place were awakened by
      the sound of a huge crane rigged up with a demolition ball moving
      into position outside. The street was closed off by police coaches
      parked across the road. The squatters resisted, and with the help of
      Lambeth Community Law Centre, hurriedly and successfully applied for
      an injunction to halt the demolition but not before 16 houses had
      been wrecked, 10 irretrievably.

      The outcry which this affair caused brought an end to the Council''s
      most rabidly anti-squatting policies. On 25 January the Labour Group
      voted to think again about the future of St Agnes Place and later it
      agreed to allow the squatters to remain until the park could be laid
      out. Many councillors were angered by the deceit that had surrounded
      sending in demolition contractors as the decision had been kept
      secret from all but a handful of high-ranking officers and
      councillors. Even the police were said to have been misled when
      asked to attend. They were told to come to assist in an eviction and
      the officer in charge of the operation was later quoted as saying
      that he hoped never again to be involved in anything similar.

      The fight for St Agnes Place has been a remarkable one. At times
      official attitudes were completely at odds with the needs of local
      people. For example, Councillor Carey, leader of the Conservative
      Group, had seconded the proposal to demolish St Agnes Place at a
      Planning Committee meeting with the memorable suggestion that there
      were already too many people living in Lambeth and ''to make sure
      that the extra population doesn''t stay, we should demolish houses
      that encourage them to do so.''

      In the aftermath of the St Agnes Place affair, the entire ''get
      tough on squatting'' steamroller ground to a halt, not only in
      Lambeth, but elsewhere. The continuing presence of squatters in St
      Agnes Place, constituted a victory for all squatters. The outcome of
      these struggles, moreover, comprised a victory for the homeless in
      Lambeth, because it prevented the loss of housing that the original
      plans entailed. The role of squatting in forcing policy changes out
      of Lambeth Council had been absolutely crucial. As Lambeth''s
      Assistant Director of Housing remarked ''If it wasn''t for squatter
      pressure we''d have all these [houses] down months ago and nobody
      would have noticed.''
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