Fuck s144! Some quick analysis of the Brighton case

Our three friends who were accused of the “offence” of occupying an unused allegedly residential building have all now been cleared of any “crime.” The three were arrested in Brighton last year, just two days after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO 2012) had become law. When they came to trial, two had charges dropped, the other one was convicted purely on the word of a copper. On appeal, this conviction was quashed on October 31, over a year later. So finally we can celebrate!

Now at last we can talk about the case and what it means for squatting. Basically, the news is good. Very good in fact. This new law is unenforceable, just as groups such as Squatters Action for Secure Housing (SQUASH) and the Squatters Network of Brighton and Hove always maintained.

If you are unlucky enough to be arrested for the “sin” of taking shelter in a residential building, we would advise saying nothing to the police (including giving a no comment interview) and pleading not guilty to the charge of squatting. We would also advise getting a good solicitor from a firm with knowledge of the recent law changes, such as Kellys or Bindmans (numbers below).

In every case, the exact way to attack section 144 of LASPO will of course be different, but it’s useful to see areas that can be exploited. Here, in this instance, the crucial bits were really clauses 1 and 3. The points of argument were what ‘living’ means when used as follows: “the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period” and what ‘adapted’ actually means in “a building is ‘residential’ if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live.” We’ll come back to the meaning of residential later. As regards living, it is in fact very hard to prove that someone lives somewhere. Most people know that, since when you legally live somewhere and want to open a bank account or whatever, the standard thing is to supply bills or other official letters as proofs of address (as well as ID).

Why did this person get convicted originally and not the other two? Well, because this one person spoke to the police, allowing a cop to claim he admitted to living in the property which was raided. The magistrates hearing the case believed the cop, thus the squatter was convicted. On appeal, a judge (who is legally trained, unlike magistrates) quickly threw out the unsubstantiated claims of the cop. Further, the judge stated that if the police want to prove a person is living in a squat, they would have to provide evidence based on:

1 Observation (ie evidence that the person was using the squat)
2 Forensics (ie examining food, clothing, letters in the squat to establish the person was linked to the squat)
3 Detailed interviews (eg neighbours confirming)
4 The normal requirements of residence (eg bills in the name of the person to that address)

This all seems entirely reasonable. And also expensive and unworkable for cops, who will effectively have to mount a major surveillance operation to prove a relatively minor “crime.” Further, any squatter with a brain would surely notice such a surveillance operation and take that as a warning. So we think it will actually be very hard to successfully prove someone “lives” in a squat. We may see that issue play out again in future court cases.

Coming back to the separate question of what ‘adapted for residential’ means in law, in this case the judge said that since he had already thrown out the conviction on other grounds, it would be “improper” to analyse what residential means. So this will also be subject to further challenges in future, no doubt. What we can say is that in this case, a building which was claimed to be residential actually was not, legally: The police said it was residential because they were told that by the property management company; The property management company said it was residential because the building had been adapted to residential; But as our barrister showed, the planning permission to switch from commercial to residential had never actually been executed. A place which was supposed to be 4 residential flats was clearly a non-residential space with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The prosecuting barrister (bless) argued it was residential because it looked residential. It had a fridge and a shower and electricity. Obviously that argument is going nowhere. Non-residential places such as chambers, offices, schools, even courts, all may have these things but they are not residential. Every case is different, but clearly if a place looks residential it may not actually be in the eyes of the law. (There is much to explore here).

So what tentative lessons can be drawn? Here are some suggestions which we hope are useful:

1 Never tell police you live in a building they claim is residential (the protest angle seems to be working out well for the occupation of the two Council houses in Southwark).
2 Never plead guilty to the charge of squatting in a residential building.
3 Get good legal help
4 A good barricade is always welcome
5 CPS = Can’t Prosecute Shit.

This is not over yet by any means. But as just one opening salvo in the battle to establish what it means to squat post-criminalisation, this case has shown that it will be very hard to convict squatters. Especially squatters who have done their homework on the building they intend to occupy. And squatters who intend to fight repression. Drop us a line if we can help. The recent news from Wales is also encouraging!

We didn’t do our homework particularly well and we were able to fight the repressive conviction because we were lucky enough to have support around us and because we think this new law is stupid. We won. You could too.

housingwar AT squat.net

Useful links:

Police arrest three for squatting in Brighton property
Police ‘failures’ see Brighton squatter’s alleged confession thrown out

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
Squatters Legal Network

Kellys solicitors (Brighton) – 01273674898
Bindmans solicitors (London) – 020 7833 4433


We won the appeal!! A squatter convicted under s144 had the conviction unanimously overturned for lack of ANY evidence. Our barrister was ninja and the judge laid down some stringent guidelines on what the police must do to establish proof that someone lives in a squat. Unfortunately he refused to define what constitutes residential…

A deeper analysis will follow, for now we can only say if you are accused of squatting a residential building, don’t talk to police at all (no comment interview) and plead not guilty. This law is fucked and unenforceable.

Also, the #mikeweatherleyisacoward case continues so our @housingwar twitter will continue with court updates…

Halloween in Brighton (and Hove)

So tomorrow (Thursday 31 October) the appeal against the s144 conviction continues in Hove Crown Court (today went quite well, we will be posting a full report after the trail concludes) AND also the two day trial of a man accused of calling Mike Weatherley a coward begins at Brighton magistrates court (yes it does really).

Solidarity to both defendants AND all squatters.

Plus big up the recent squat action in London to reclaim two Council-owned houses!

AND we wholeheartedly commend the occupation at Sussex university in support of the Oct31 strike!!

Appeal Coming Up!

The appeal of the final squatban resister is coming up! 30th and 31st Oct, 10:30am Hove Crown Court, Landsdown Place, Hove!

In a week and a half, on the 30th and 31st of October, our friend Dirk will finally have his appeal against his conviction for Squatting a Residental building. We call on all squatters and allie to come to this appeal and support Dirk! Fuck S144! Down with Weatherley, up the squatters!

A little background: On September 3rd 2012 (3 days after Section 144 LASPO was passed, criminalising squatting in a residental buidling) A squat on London Rd in Brighton was raided by Sussex Police and hired goons from Veritas Security company. On the flimsy pretext that the building looked residential, Police kicked the door in, only to find that two squatters had made their way up on to the roof, and another three had superglued themselves together in the attic. After six hours, they finally managed to arrest the three in the attic (the two on the roof having escaped), who were charged with squatting a residental building, obstructing police and abstracting electricity. A three day trial was held in April 2013, at which all charges were dropped for two of the defendants on the basis that there was absolutely no evidence of any offence. One final defendant, Dirk, was convicted of Squatting a residental building despite the fact the only evidence against him was the statement of a single lieing cop (he was literally caught lieing in court). He was given a year long community order, 40 hours of unpaid work and £250 costs. An appeal was launches straight away.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHAX93BH_k0 The Raid
http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10372394.Defence_calls_for_squat_trial_to_be_thrown_out/ Trial Day One
http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10375093.Two_Brighton_squat_cases_rejected_in_court/ Two Cases Thrown Out
http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10444375.Squatter_first_in_Sussex_to_be_found_guilty_of_breaking_new_law/ Dirk’s Conviction

New dates

The trial today was adjourned until October 30/31.
With Dillinger Escape Plan playing Oct31 in Brighton, Halloween looks like it’ll be a lot of fun this year. Come on down!!
Also #mikeweatherleyisacoward …

Appeal Location Announced!

Tomorrow (30th August) is Dirk’s appeal!


Dirk was convicted earlier this year of Squatting a Residential Building under Section 144 LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). Despite virtually no evidence, the acquittal of his co-defendants and obvious police lies, 3 magistrates ordered him to complete 40 hours of community service and pay £250 costs. (Local rag’s report here) An appeal was sent in straight away and the location has just been announced. It is:

10:00am, Court 2, Hove Trial Centre, The Court House, Lansdowne Rd, Hove BN3 3BN

We are calling on everyone to be there to support Dirk and protest against S144. Fuck the law, squat the lot!


See you tomorrow.

Appeal update

The appeal will be heard on August 30 (first we heard August 9 but it’s been set back). Check back nearer the time to see if it’s happening on this date! For the crown court location we will know probably only the day before if it is Lewes or Brighton. Fuck the system!

Result of May trial

We are pretty shocked to report that the third and last defendant was found GUILTY under s144 on May 24. He was sentenced to 40 hours unpaid labour and a £250 fine. Previous updates can be found here. This decision was immediately appealed and we will let you know the next court date asap.

The magistrates said in their “judgement” that:

  1. The defendant was a trespasser
  2. The defendant was living there
  3. The building was residential

In support of their claim that the defendant lived there, the magistrates said there was shower gel in the shower, pots and pans in the kitchen and a light on in the fridge. This is clearly far from a legal definition of living, especially since the defendant was not actually linked to any of the items in any way.

In support of their claim that the building was residential, the magistrates appeared to rely on the tried and trusted adage that ‘the police said it was true so it must be true.’ They ignored evidence obtained from the Council that the building had never been converted to residential.

What does this mean? We think this means that a judge (or indeed anyone with legal training) will quickly overturn this decision. Mike Weatherly says he is delighted that our friend is convicted. We will be interested to hear his reaction when our friend returns to having no convictions again in about six weeks.

The other two defendants had previously had their cases dropped on grounds of no case to answer (no comment from Weatherly about that). The only difference with the case for the third defendant was that a cop claimed the defendant had said to him that he lived in the building. This evidence was used in court despite not being taken under caution (there are grounds for appeal on that alone!) and the magistrates took it as a voluntary confession, despite it being disputed by the defence.

In order to reach this decision, the magistrates appeared to prize the word of one policeman over another, since although one had claimed that the defendant had said he lived in the building, another said he had not.

In the eyes of these right-wing dipshits, it is fine for the police to act as property protectors, an approach which has already had tragic consequences.

All in all, this trial was a farce, with untrained magistrates being asked to implement an ill-thought out new law. They failed to do their job properly and the only good thing to come out of this conviction is that hopefully a decent legal precedent will be set on appeal which makes clear what ‘living’ and ‘residential’ mean in the eyes of the law. We do not doubt that this will lead to our friend’s conviction being overturned AND this new law becoming unworkable in practice.

PS Thanks to everyone for their continued support and props to the entire public gallery for walking out when the magistrates unveiled their prejudices.