MP calls for squatting to be made illegal

THE MP for Finchley and Golders Green has called on the government to criminalise squatting after a spate of house invasions in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Mike Freer said that he has recently been contacted by several constituents whose properties have been overrun by squatters and who have been powerless to do anything about it, because squatting is only a criminal offence if there is clear evidence that a property has been broken into.

Police are powerless to act and homeowners have to pursue legal action through the civil courts, which can cost thousands of pounds.

The most high profile case recently of squatting in the Suburb was when a group of activists calling themselves Topple the Tyrants took over Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif’s �10million mansion on Winnington Close.

“If you’re in someone else’s property without their permission it should be the same as breaking in and entering – it should be a criminal offence,” Mr Freer, who is the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said.

He raised the issue in the House of Commons, last Tuesday, telling MPs that at least three properties in Hampstead Garden Suburb are currently being occupied by squatters, which obviously causes distress for the owners.

“Professional squatters target houses where the owner is absent,” he said. “They are very well organised and they know exactly how to stay on the right side of the law.

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“They claim that they have not broken into these houses but my view is that they do break in and then they cover their tracks sufficiently so that it’s very hard to prove.”

Mr Freer has arranged a meeting with Crispin Blunt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, to press for the government to change the law on squatting.

His campaign comes as increasing numbers of wealthy property owners in Hampstead are turning to private security firms to guard their properties while they are away.

Security firm Precreate Solutions says they are currently guarding properties and patrolling Winnington Road and Bishops Avenue because homeowners are becoming increasingly anxious at leaving their homes empty.

Two weeks ago a group of 15 squatters took over an �8million, 10-bedroom house in Winnington Road.

Gary Jackson from Precreate Solutions, which is based in Chelmsford, said: “The situation in Hampstead Garden Suburb is getting to the point where residents don’t even feel they can go on holiday for a couple of weeks without fear of having squatters invade their home.

Our security presence gives them peace of mind when they are away, and they can catch up with us at any time when they are away.”

Other homeowners have turned to companies such as Live-in Guardians which was set up by Arthur Duke. The 46-year-old solicitor who has experience of working in the property market, charges homeowners �100 a week to move professionals in for short term lets. This stops squatters because it is illegal to enter a house if someone is living there.

Mr Arthur said it was a “win-win” situation because professionals such as junior doctors at the Royal Free get to live in a multi-million pound property for a reduced rent and homeowners can relax in the knowledge that their property is protected from squatters.