Possession should count for more than occupation

Possession should count for more than occupation

Possession should count for more than occupation

Squatting continues to be a major problem. Despite the continuing success of enforcement officers throughout the UK, it remains a scourge for owners of vacant properties, regardless of the size or the value of the buildings left empty.

This was evidenced last year when squatters set up residence in two £15million mansions in London’s Park Lane, one of the country’s most prestigious and expensive addresses, famous for its luxury hotels and super-rich residents.

Last year, Shergroup successfully evicted squatters from a number of properties, and its services continue to be much in demand. But Shergroup’s Chief Executive Claire Sandbrook is concerned that the true damage caused by squatting is still not fully understood: “Whilst some still perceive squatting in an idealistic, almost romantic light, there is nothing romantic in any of the situations our High Court Enforcement Officers are obliged to deal with.

“Squatters can quickly turn houses from prized homes into uninhabitable, unsafe ‘shells’ in a matter of days,” she says. “It is little wonder, therefore, that our services are increasingly in demand.”

One of Claire’s most recent instructions came on August 11 when The Crown Estate issued Shergroup with six High Court Writs of Possession for properties in Victoria Park, Hackney: five in Gore Road and one in Skipworth Road.

A group of young foreign squatters had forced their way into the properties several months earlier after The Crown Estate had moved residents as part of a deal to transfer 1200 homes on a number of estates including Cumberland Market in Camden, Millbank in Westminster and Lee Green in Lewisham to a third-party buyer.

High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) successfully evicted the youths from the first five properties without too many difficulties, but in the last property the squatters had erected barricades using fridges and mattresses.

Despite attempted negotiations, the squatters refused to come out. The officers were therefore obliged to use force to gain entry to the flat, which they discovered had been daubed in graffiti and was in a squalid condition. By now, a group of local residents and squatters had assembled outside the apartments and police were called into control the crowd, who soon found themselves under attack.

Conrad van Zyl, Security Supervisor and HCEO for Shergroup managed the eviction: “The police were coming under such a continued attack that they considered calling the eviction off,” he said. “We are used to facing this level of hostility which often includes being spat at and abused and so were determined to evict successfully.”

Despite the confrontation and aggressive behaviour, all six properties were signed over to The Crown Estate the following day.

As Claire concludes: “Shergroup will continue to carry out its duties as High Court Enforcement Officers to the ensure orders of possession in High Court are obeyed and housing stock is not destroyed by an irresponsible few.”