on the death of Daniel Gauntlett, the first known death from S144

Dear Argus

Mike Weatherley MP’s response in your paper to the news of the death of Daniel Gauntlett shows how out of touch with reality he is.

Daniel Gauntlett, a 35 year old homeless man was unable to find shelter in an unused bungalow, due for demolition, and died of hypothermia sleeping outside it.

Weatherley is proud to be responsible for a new law criminalising people living in otherwise empty residential properties, a law which apparently local police threatened Mr Gauntlett with.

Weatherley says “It is true that some of those who are homeless have squatted but this does not make them squatters”, clearly a false distinction when it comes passing laws against an activity. As was explained in many of the responses to the “consultation” of the government prior to this law change, many homeless people do what this law makes a crime, in order to survive. No notice was taken of these responses.

He also says “If squatters really cared about the homeless then they would help them access council services, not scare them into believing that they would be arrested.” Clearly it was the police who scared Mr Gauntlett into not taking life-saving shelter, on the basis of Mr Weatherley’s law. The Advisory Service for Squatters has been advising squatters and other homeless people for 38 years and has been happy to help people get council housing, but this is increasingly difficult. We would also love not to scare people into believing that they will be arrested but Weatherley’s law makes this more difficult too. It is not clear to us which of the few surviving council services Mr Gauntlett might have got access to.

There are a number of confusing statements about the law. He states that “Trespassing has been illegal in this country for hundreds of years” which is clearly untrue, and would have made his law unnecessary. He confuses the 1977 Protection from Eviction Act,  protecting tenants, with that part of the 1977 Criminal Law Act which protects others from forcible eviction without lawful authority.

Most importantly Weatherley makes a false distinction between those who squat because they have to and those who might have a certain amount more choice, both of whom are criminalised anyway. Those that he considers as squatters (as against those he considers mere victims) are those who are angry at the fact that property rights are more important than people’s lives, that social housing is under sustained attack while the property tycoons who sponsor Weatherley’s political campaign are responsible for thousands of empty properties. We hope that squatting will continue to provide shelter for people like Daniel Gauntlett, space for social protest and community activity like the Barnet library saved by occupation, and for other expressions of resistance and experimentation against the domination of private property and money. It isn’t squatters who are “society-hating” it is those like Weatherley who can only understand society and human need in terms of money and profit.