Dozens of people evicted from east London homeless shelter in police ‘power play’
An Autonomous Winter Shelter organiser said one of those evicted collapsed “because he wasn’t physically and mentally well for situations like that”.
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A group of east London housing activists have accused the Met Police of a “power play”, after an estimated 100 officers in riot gear evicted dozens of people squatting in a homeless shelter today (June 1).
Part of the wider Autonomous Shelter Network of London, the Autonomous Winter Shelter (AWS) had been housing homeless people in a disused convent in Shadwell. Among those to have benefited from its services are six of the survivors from the Shadwell fire, in which a 41-year-old died in hospital after a blaze broke out in a council-run flat in early March.
On April 30, AWS received a letter from the Met Police stating their occupation of the property was illegal, due to it being a partly-residential space, contrary to Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Offenders Act 2012. As such, they were given 21 days to vacate the premises.
According to Novara Media, the threat of eviction seemed to have largely subsided, after Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman wrote to the Met, following on from a previous email sent by the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) claiming police intervention would be “inappropriate and we would suggest unlawful”.
At just before 10am today, police officers arrived at the property to evict those staying in the shelter. The Met said 29 people were evicted, although an AWS organiser said “more than 40” people were staying at the shelter.
One of the AWS organisers, who estimated more than 100 police officers attended the scene, told LondonWorld: “They appeared without any warning, which they promised they wouldn’t do. It was a power play.”
Online footage shows a long line of police approaching the shelter, many of whom are armed with riot shields, with scuffles appearing to break out between officers and protestors demonstrating against the eviction.
The AWS organiser said one of those staying at the shelter had “collapsed, because he wasn’t physically and mentally well for situations like that”, adding the group is “very angry” with the police’s conduct.
They confirmed AWS is already looking for another property to house those evicted.
The Met Police said it had first received a report stating the property was being illegally occupied in December 2022, with subsequent complaints received from local residents about antisocial behaviour.
The force added officers attempted to enter the venue on previous occasions to speak with the occupants, but were always refused.
Referencing the person who collapsed during their entry earlier, the Met said the man was given first aid by officers and taken to hospital by ambulance, but has since been discharged. It said it will review any interaction they had with him before the incident.
Superintendent Andy Port said the action was taken largely due to “a growing number of complaints and concerns reported to us by local residents”.
He continued: “In terms of our attendance this morning, because of the lack of engagement from those inside it was difficult to know how many people were present, so we had to prepare accordingly. No one was arrested.
“As police officers, we are here to serve our communities and uphold the law, but I know that this incident has understandably raised questions and concerns from those who may be unaware of the background and context. As such we will continue to be open and transparent with the public in explaining the reasons behind our actions.”