My wardmate Cllr Stephen Stark has informed me that the White Horse on South End Green has been occupied by squatters. This is just the latest of a long line of squatting incidents in Hampstead, including the Legal Café on Haverstock Hill.
Squatting is somewhat unique, in that the point is that the perpetrators want to stay at the scene. This makes tackling it far less dependent on policing resources or visibility and far more dependent on the will and the powers the police have to handle it. Speaking to our own local team, I know there’s no lack of the former, so what about the latter?
Thanks to the Conservatives, squatting in residential properties was criminalised in England & Wales 2012: a move known as “Weatherley’s Law”, after its proposer Mike Weatherley. This matched the law in Scotland, where it had been a criminal offence for 150 years.
However, this law doesn’t apply to commercial properties, squatting (or, more precisely, forcible entry) in which was decriminalised by Labour in 1977 and has never been recriminalised. As such, the people that broke into the White Horse could escape without any liability at all (damaging the door is illegal, but if you just pick the lock, it’s not). This is wrong, and the disparity should be ended, such that squatting of all descriptions is criminalised. This will provide a far stronger deterrent.
Of course, sadly, there is a political dimension to this. The reason that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell both spoke against Mike Weatherley’s law in 2012 is simple: they don’t believe that you have an inalienable right to your home. They believe that you owning property, even your own home, is depriving someone else – as if everything is a zero-sum game – so who are you to complain if someone takes it from you?
I find that completely abhorrent. It is right that those that break into your property – whether residential or commercial – are subject to criminal prosecution. In the meantime, keep yourselves and your property safe, and report any unusual comings and goings to the police.