Protesters ‘occupying’ Lancaster arrested

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Photo credit: Occupy Lancaster

The Lancashire Police press office has confirmed that four protesters were arrested on January 8th following reports of a break-in at the deserted Railton Hotel.

The report states that “police were called to the Railton Hotel on Station Road in Lancaster at around 4pm on Sunday 8 January to reports of a break in. On arrival, officers found a group of protesters inside the building. Officers later entered the property and four arrests were made.”

The group, which consisted of two men and one woman from Lancaster and one man from Morecambe, are said to be members of ‘Occupy Lancaster’.

Occupy Lancaster was launched on October 15th 2011 following the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement which began in New York City in mid-September of last year. On its webpage, Occupy Lancaster explains that the Occupy movement is “an indefinite protest against corrupt politics and corporate greed”.

Lancaster University Against Cuts (LUAC) representative Chris Witter told SCAN that “LUAC fully supports Occupy Lancaster” going on to say that “in the hope of building a community space for everyone in a rotting building that’s been abandoned for years, good people from Lancaster Occupy began an occupation of the Railton Hotel, made legal under squatting law, section 6.”

A postgraduate Law student from Lancaster student offered an explanation of the Police’s intervention. Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, “Violence for Securing Entry” states that: “Subject to the following provisions of this section, any person who, without lawful authority, uses or threatens violence for the purpose of securing entry into any premises for himself or for any other person is guilty of an offence, provided that—(a) there is someone present on those premises at the time who is opposed to the entry which the violence is intended to secure; and (b)the person using or threatening the violence knows that that is the case.”

However, subsection 6 of this law clearly states that “a constable in uniform may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, guilty of an offence under this section.”

In this case, the police had entered the property due to suspicions of criminal damage of the building. According to the Guardian, a spokesperson from Lancashire police described the protesters as having barricaded themselves in the hotel.

Witter, however, still feels that the police response to the protesters was “pure intimidation, aggression and destruction in defence of private property and the political status quo.”

Michael Doupe, a civil property law expert from Lancaster University’s Law School, advised SCAN that squatting “is in fact simply trespassing on land in strict English Law terms.”

Stressing the subjectivity of law which has lead to disagreement over the Police’s actions at the hotel, Doupe added that what seems to have has happened here clearly involves some aspect of criminal law which has occasioned the interest of the Police.”

“There are a range of public order offences and may be something here tipped the balance which made the activity criminal rather than purely a civil matter,” Doupe added.

The Lancashire Police have confirmed that the protesters have all since been released with no further action.

Despite this, Witter feels that the police’s response has “destroyed Occupy’s plans for the building, they evicted a legal squat, and they deployed the spectacle of their power as a means of intimidating the people of Lancaster, and all those who wish to develop an alternative to a society of perpetual capitalist crisis. But, we are not cowed and we will not give in.”

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16 Comments

  1. nothing makes a stand against perceived injustice like squatting in an abandoned hotel

  2. I didn’t know Louise Mensch had a SCAN account! They were planning to use it as a community center, actually.

  3. …but it was a dilapidated hotel when they ‘occupied’ it?

  4. Sorry to point this out, but ‘FUCK THE PIGS’ just won’t wash at a suspicious scene that the police has been called to investigate. Police have to question those involved before they can be sure that some kind of crack den isn’t in operation. The police checked, and those involved have been released.

    It’s the equivalent of insulting Frankie Fraser’s mum and screaming ‘GANG VIOLENCE IS RIFE!’ when you’re nutted in the face for it. But hey ho, there’s your publicity! Arms open wide for the new members this horseshit will attract – the equivalent of the student who threw the fire extinguisher from the top of the multi-storey building at the fees protest.

    There is real police misconduct out there, and instead, they chose to do something they fucking well knew would get them arrested, and used that as an example instead.

    Well done for ruining the credibility of an admirable cause in one fell squat.

  5. The article also makes a few unexamined assertions. What exactly is ‘section 6’? I know the answer – so I’ll explain. Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 is being relied on in this case to justify entry into abandoned property. Under the Criminal Law Act, Chris believes, such entry is ‘legal.’ Let’s examine that for a moment.

    Now, Chris, I like you, but your analysis of the CLA is incorrect if you think that it makes squatting in abandoned hotels legal, because it clearly doesn’t. It should be initially stated that ‘squatters rights’ is more a term invoked by the media as shorthand and by people who squat themselves – it’s not a legal term and no lawyer would ever refer to it, because it simply doesn’t exist. Most of the ‘squatters rights’ is actually covered by adverse possession laws which have been essentially hamstrung in the 21st century and in any case don’t apply to this case because you would have to demonstrate intention to possess, which isn’t an issue here. Anyway, Section 6 CLA 1977 quite clearly doesn’t deal with the legality of squats – it deals with violence for securing entrance to a property and states:

    (1)Subject to the following provisions of this section, any person who, without lawful authority, uses or threatens violence for the purpose of securing entry into any premises for himself or for any other person is guilty of an offence, provided that?

    (a)there is someone present on those premises at the time who is opposed to the entry which the violence is intended to secure; and

    (b)the person using or threatening the violence knows that that is the case.

    So really, all it states is that the police or anyone else has to be careful about breaking into property. THAT SAID subsection (6) below states:

    (6)A constable in uniform may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, guilty of an offence under this section.

    Ronnie’s admittedly frivolous comment above has an element of truth – the police, give them credit, probably were only told that a bunch of people had broken into the Railton Hotel…they probably weren’t told that it was for the purposes of political protest, and even if they were, there is more than adequate grounds for reasonable suspicion that criminal damage would occur. I share your anger at the heavy handedness of the police with demonstrators, but to say that they acted unlawfully is probably not the case.

    Furthermore the Criminal Law Act 1977 is amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which makes trespassing on land a crime as well as a tort. The CJPOA seems a bit less relevant to this case, though, because all you need is s6(6) of the CLA to show that the police had reasonable grounds to suspect that there would have been criminal damage. Regardless of whether or not that’s true is irrelevant because this is a question of law, not morals (I happen to agree with the occupy movement) but in this case, the police didn’t act illegally and furthermore the assertion that ‘section 6’ makes trespass legal is just completely false. Eventually, the occupy guys were released without charge, so a lot of this is moot, but just thought I’d challenge a legal inaccuracy in this article, because the author presumably couldn’t be bothered herself.

  6. All that in mind, though… if it’s true that the police were present during the day, speaking to the protesters without any hint of hostility, before suddenly pouncing on them with fifty of their mates in the evening… then the writer of this article should do their research. After all, it is conducive to informing the reader of the necessary facts.

  7. So, I take my first comment back, pending a deeper look into what actually happened that day.

  8. Am I the only one who thinks it is ridiculous that the police have done this? The building was unoccupied and dilapidated. These people were working cooperatively to clean it up and make it a livable part of the community. It would have been great to see the place become a community center to fill the hole that the underfunded local government services has left. They were causing absolutely no harm to anyone. Of course, I respect on the other hand the viewpoint of the owner of the building, it would have been interesting to hear a line from him/her.

  9. Chris can’t get onto the SCAN website so he’s asked me to post this:

    Hi Alex,

    A few thoughts about your comment on the SCAN write-up of Lancaster Occupy arrests. I can?t comment on the SCAN article, as it won?t let me log in.

    You misinterpret me, my friend. It is,as you say, illegal for anyone to force entry into a secured property, as this would constitute criminal damage. However, if one takes possession on a longterm disused building without causing criminal damage, then ?Section 6?, as you yourself have argued, states ?that the police or anyone else has to be careful about breaking into property.? The effect of this is to make squatting a civil offence, which means that it is a dispute between the owner and the squatters which must be solved in the courts (and, crucially, takes time…).

    There is one loophole, though, which you also note. If the police have reasonable cause to suspect that a crime has been committed, they can move in and arrest people. In this case, however, they had no evidence except that the owner supposedly said the property had been secure ?some months ago?. Whether or not this is reasonable grounds to suspect occupiers had caused criminal damage is highly debatable. Certainly they found no evidence of criminal damage. And this is why the occupiers expected this to be a civil matter, under section 6.

    You are correct, however, that my use of the word ?legal? was incorrect. What I meant was, under section 6 the occupiers had a legal right not to have the squat invaded and themselves arrested.

    It is worth discussing the following comment:

    ?[The police were probably] only told that a bunch of people had broken into the Railton Hotel?they probably weren?t told that it was for the purposes of political protest, and even if they were, there is more than adequate grounds for reasonable suspicion that criminal damage would occur.?

    First, as already discussed, the grounds for reasonable suspicion of criminal damage are shaky. Second, the police found out about the occupation via monitoring Occupy Lancaster?s facebook page (please don?t open the question of why it had been posted on there?). They knew it was a political occupation and this, I think, has a lot to do with why they intervened, rather than leaving this as a civil matter. Certainly it has a lot to do with them turning up with about 6 van loads of police. More, they liaised with the occupiers, letting them in and out of the building for some time before, a bit later in the evening, they decided to surround the building and then to break in and arrest people.

  10. They were, and although I now think the police were acting the goon, it’s not easy just to take a building own by someone else and ‘do it up’. It’s a lovely thought, a lovely thing to do, but it just doesn’t *work* like that. But…

    “It would have been great to see the place become a community center to fill the hole that the underfunded local government services has left” – haven’t you ever visited the Gregson centre? A charming little arts hub that has yet to succumb to the cuts. They do good food, too.

  11. I’m afraid the only obvious crime here is the journalistic one.

  12. Piece of advice: if you’re going to correct a poorly-researched article, it’s standard journalistic practise to state at the beginning of the article something like “This article originally stated [factual misrepresentations] – changes have been added after the article itself” and then after your original article you put “AMENDMENTS:” and then an update on the new research you’ve done. Otherwise it just looks like you’re the Ministry of Truth and it also makes all the comments on this article totally irrelevant. Just here to help.

  13. Valid points, Alex.

    Though I think it’d be more helpful if you email the editors directly, pointing out the weaknesses in their work. It’s not very nice to attack SCAN editors defenceless like this. Current SCAN editors are obviously not as experienced as you who had the privilege to edit SCAN for two years. Perhaps, past editors are partly at fault for not grooming future editorial talents when we were in office.

  14. Just for the record, I can say that I was never groomed by Alex Harris.

  15. “student demands more grooming” would make an exceptional front page

  16. Khairil- finger pointing aside, the point is that the editors are responsible for content and the way it’s received, and should probably be keeping track of the articles on their own site without having to be emailed about it… especially when it’s an article trending as much as this one is.

    Paul- Hahahaha!

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