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Bailiffs move in after eviction orders granted for two squats in Hampstead

American artist John Ligda outside the former Maxwell's building on Heath St as he welcomes passers by into the art exhibition in the rear of the building. He flew in from his home in Warsaw, Poland, to exhibit at the squat. Picture: Polly Hancock American artist John Ligda outside the former Maxwell's building on Heath St as he welcomes passers by into the art exhibition in the rear of the building. He flew in from his home in Warsaw, Poland, to exhibit at the squat. Picture: Polly Hancock

Thursday, May 1, 2014
9:00 AM

Bailiffs have evicted squatters who transformed a vacant bar in Hampstead into a pop-up art gallery this week – and another group living at a former police station are next in the firing line.

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"The Heath of the Moment" art exhibition in the Former Maxwell's building on Heath St NW3. Organiser Jan with artist Rosa, who are also living in the building. Picture: Polly Hancock"The Heath of the Moment" art exhibition in the Former Maxwell's building on Heath St NW3. Organiser Jan with artist Rosa, who are also living in the building. Picture: Polly Hancock

Six artists moved into the former Tabby Cat Lounge in Heath Street, which has been empty since 2008, four weeks ago, and held an exhibition titled Heath of the Moment at the weekend.

They showed paintings, drawings and photos from various contributors including John Ligda, an American artist based in Warsaw, Poland, who flew in especially to display his work after learning of the project through social media.

But their stay came to an end on Tuesday when bailiffs armed with a battering ram, chainsaw and climbing equipment turned up at 5.30am, following a court order.

Photographer Rosa, 30, who declined to give her last name, said: “The bailiffs came well-prepared in case we were going to resist.

“They came in and woke us up and we packed up our stuff and were out by about 8am.

“We really enjoyed being in Hampstead and the local population on the whole was very welcoming and there’s lots of creative spirit. We wish Hampstead well.”

The exhibition was organised by Jan, 23, an artist from the Czech Republic, who also did not want to give his full name.

“A property should be occupied, there are so many people who need shelter,” he said.

David Carter, chief executive of the The Sheriffs Office, said the occupants left peacefully, adding: “They appear to have treated the building with respect during their occupation, something rarely seen in squats these days.”

Squatters who took over the Hampstead police station annexe in Rosslyn Hill over Easter weekend have also been ordered to vacate the premises, after appearing at Central London County Court yesterday.

The station’s 15 occupants had vowed to help the community in Hampstead – like the police officers who used the building before them – and they are disappointed to not now have the chance.

Greg Aleksander, the group’s spokesman, said they had been welcomed with open arms by some neighbours.

“They were not trying to get us out of the neighbourhood – they’ve even lent us tools to help us do it up,” he said.

The 21-year-old, who is the closest thing to the group’s leader, has only been in the UK since December, when he came to visit a friend from his Polish hometown who was already squatting in London.

Because of his excellent English, he ended up negotiating with police and landlords on their behalf – and eventually the idea of starting his own community was born.

“I came here to see my friends and found out about squatting,” he said.

“I saw a couple of squats that weren’t really nice, and I wanted to show you could do it in a nice way.

“Other squats are dodgy and dirty, but we would not want to be involved with that. We’re just nice quiet people willing to help in any way possible.”

What do you think? Community reaction

Cllr Linda Chung, Hampstead Town (Lib Dem): “It’s disgraceful that the police have left the building empty for nearly a year. If the squatters mean what they say when they promise to keep the place clean, tidy and repaired, I suggest the police let them stay.

Andrew Dismore, London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden (Labour): “They have little prospect of selling it and should now accept it ought to reopen as a police station rather than be left as an empty white elephant for squatters and vandals to target.”

Cllr Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election: “I think it’s a disastrous failure on the part of Boris Johnson. If they had made a decision on the building earlier, we would not have ended up in this position.”

Peter Burian, vice-chairman of the Hampstead Town Safer Neighbourhoods Panel: “It’s so ludicrous Gilbert and Sullivan couldn’t even set it to music.”

Jamie Walker, 33, who works in recruitment and lives opposite in Rosslyn Hill: “The building is going to be sold for millions and we will probably get a Russian oligarch moving in, which I’m not too pleased about – but I would prefer that to squatters.”

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