Photo by The Argus

 

Dozens of protesters joined the Squatters Network of Brighton (SNOB) in the Brighton city centre on 13 August 2012, demonstrating their opposition to the new anti-squatting legislation.

The protest followed the implementation of a new law which criminalises squatting in residential buildings.

The legislation is commonly known as ‘Weatherley’s Law’ named after the Conservative MP for Hove, Mike Weatherley, who has been the key proponent and instrumentalist of the law.

The maximum punishment for squatting is six months in jail, a financial reprimand of £5,000, or both.

Whilst waiting for the march to begin in Victoria Gardens, around a dozen protesters covered their faces with black balaclavas and distributed information on what to do if put under arrest during the protest.

One protester said: “The new act is draconian and unworkable; it’s an attack on some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

The protesters argued that Brighton was the most important place to dispute the law, as “both the birthplace of the bill, and as one of the places where affordable houses are most difficult to come by.”

The protest began with a march up Edward Street, whilst the protesters chanted “no homes, no peace” and a number of obscenities regarding the police force.

The mass protest group filled the road, forcing police motorbikes to form blockades in order to ensure safety of passage.

On St. James’ Street, two members of the protest group climbed onto an unoccupied shop, and hung a sign reading “better to squat than let homes rot”.

The protest continued up North Street, forcing a large number of buses to remain stationary.

Shoppers and tourists watched and listened to the group’s loud chanting as they progressed towards Western Road and proceeded to occupy a vacant five-story shop.

On the Thursday before the protest, Mike Weatherley “urged [residents to] be on their guard as squatters…descend on the city”.

Since being elected in 2010, Mike Weatherley has campaigned for the criminalisation of squatting.

Speaking about the protest, the MP for Hove said: “These self-styled anarchists, who don’t seem to know what they are actually angry about, want to squat in other people’s homes – I do not shirk from standing up to them as it is just plain wrong.”

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis said of the anti-squatting legislation: “It will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat in the first place – their homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.”

Cat Gough,

News Editor

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