A Parliament Square demonstration over plans to criminalise squatting ended in clashes with police and at least 12 arrests early this morning.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will be debated in the House of Commons later today with plans to make squatting a criminal offence in a bid to help homeowners defend their property. The Parliament Square scuffles broke out around midnight last night when police attempted to move on 150 protesters, who in common with their protesting objective, declined to leave.
The plans have been criticised as unjust and a harbinger of a wider move to ‘retrofit’ the bill to criminalise occupation-based protests such as UK Uncut’s occupation of Fortnum & Mason during the summer’s wide-spread protests against government austerity measures. The car-crash epic of the Occupy London protest with its resulting impact on the church, not to mention their likely upcoming eviction by police under the eyes of the world’s media, will only add ammunition to the government’s desire to prevent occupation-based protests in one way or another.
Justice secretary Ken Clarke’s home was targeted in September by a group of protesters campaigning against the criminalisation of squatting, while film director Guy Ritchie and the son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi both found their home squatted. But as the Evening Standard has recently highlighted, for every community-serving squatting group, there can be a darker side.
With apparently thousands of empty properties being hoarded by councils across London set against rising homelessness in the wake of welfare cuts, is criminalising the dispossessed really the answer?