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Squatters kicked out after two-day Bartrams Convent siege in Hampstead

PUBLISHED: 10:58 05 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:09 05 November 2014

The convent building adorned with a banner erected by the squatters. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

The convent building adorned with a banner erected by the squatters. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Squatters were forced to leave a vacant former convent next to the Royal Free Hospital following a two-day siege by a private security company hired by the building’s owner.

Security staff outside the building. Picture: Nigel Sutton.Security staff outside the building. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Squatters were forced to leave a vacant former convent next to the Royal Free Hospital following a two-day siege by a private security company hired by the building’s owner.

A crew of guards from VPS security firm accompanied by two vans, purportedly containing dogs, swooped on Bartrams Convent Hostel, in Rowland Hill Street, Belsize Park, last Thursday.

The guards were instructed by developer PegasusLife, which bought the property in January for £12.6million, to secure the building after a group of around 20 squatters entered a week earlier.

VPS staff stood guard outside the property, preventing the re-entry of several squatters who left for work and to collect supplies.

One of the squatters inside the building. Picture: Nigel Sutton.One of the squatters inside the building. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

The stand-off continued until Friday evening when the final squatters remaining inside gave in and abandoned the building.

Legally, the security staff were prohibited from forcing entry to the building to remove the squatters.

One of them, Greg Aleksander, came to Bartrams Convent Hostel after drifting between squats across London, having been forced to quit his job as a stage engineer on health grounds following a fall from a building.

During the siege, the 22-year-old, who moved to the UK from Poland last year, told the Ham&High: “There are 20 of us who sleep in there. We have friends from Pret A Manger cafe who bring us leftover food.

“We’re like a family living in a place like this, sharing food and electricity.

“When they secured the building they left a window open. They failed, basically, so they are trying to rescue their reputation.”

Another squatter, Jose Velez, 30, who moved to the UK from Spain, said: “I came here to improve my English and to find a job. I lost my job two weeks ago.

“This kind of life is all right for me. I improve my English because no one here is from Spain.

“This morning I heard something happening outside and saw these guys.

“So I came out and one of them was waiting for me and tackled me from the back. They basically chucked me out.”

PegasusLife, which was founded by asset management company Oaktree Capital Management in 2012, plans to redevelop the 1950s Bartrams Convent Hostel into upmarket housing for older people.

A planning application for the site, seeking permission for 60 flats and communal areas including a library, gardens and a restaurant, was lodged with Camden Council last month.

The company also plans to convert Arthur West House, in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, into a similar scheme.

James Lambert, PegasusLife’s development manager, refuted the squatters’ claim that they had entered Bartrams Convent Hostel through an open window and said they had upset pupils and staff at nearby Rosary RC Primary School, in Haverstock Hill, by climbing onto school buildings to reach the squat.

He said: “Despite significant measures taken to secure Bartrams Convent, a number of people forcibly made their way into the building, causing substantial alarm to neighbours.

“In line with legal advice and acting professionally at all times, our security firm allowed these people to leave the building but stopped them regaining access.

“This approach was endorsed by the Metropolitan Police.”

It is understood the squatters have now entered a vacant property in the Kilburn area.


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