Squatters find police station is good home without any charges
The Times UK January 17, 2005.
By Sean O’Neill and Nicola Woolcock
In its heyday, Arbour Square police station in Stepney held its share of notorious and hardened criminals including the Kray brothers and alleged IRA terrorists.
But the imposing red-brick building with attached courthouse has recently acquired an altogether different, some would say more anarchic, type of occupant – squatters who have moved in and made themselves comfortably at home.
A skull and crossbones flag has replaced the Union Jack and flutters at half-mast over the disused building in Lodon’s East End while a Crimestoppers sticker remains in one of its windows. The police, who are powerless to evict squatters by force, are in the embarrassing position of having to take legal action to regain possession of what was their own building. The former home of law and justice had gone the way of many police stations, closing some years ago. It was recently sold at auction and contracts are due to be exchanged with the new owners who, it is thought, will convert it into luxury flats.
But the three-storey property has proved so popular with its current residents that they have put up a sign saying: “We are filled, there are no more spaces for people to live”. Police believe that the occupants are members of a network of “professional” squatters, who know their rights, have lawyers and mobile phones and organise music and art events. A legal notice taken from Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act has been posted on the front door. It advises that entry without the squatters’ permission is a criminal offence and that “we will prosecute” anyone attempting to enter by violence.
“If you want to get us out you will have to take out a summons for possession in the county court or in the High Court, or produce to us a written statement or certificate in terms of S.12A Criminal Law Act, 1977,” it adds.
A moss-covered Royal Coat of Arms is engraved above the building’s main door and a sign that gives the station’s opening hours remains in place, even though it shut in 1999. Most windows are covered with chipboard or corrugated metal sheets.
More than 20 people are living in the property, including a teaching assistant and a Polish couple.
They have hooked up lights and heaters to a mains electricity supply and are said to sleep in one part of the half-acre development while holding parties in the other.
A Metropolitan Police source said: “We will be seeking an injunction because obviously the new owners will want to have vacant possession.”
“It is all very embarrassing because they are probably using the old police showers and cooking in the police canteen.”