Squatters help themselves to a life of luxury

A GARDENER has become lord of the manor on an exclusive Hampstead Garden Suburb street by squatting in a 20-room £10million mansion.

A GARDENER has become lord of the manor on an exclusive Hampstead Garden Suburb street by squatting in a 20-room £10million mansion.

Calin, 30, and 10 of his friends have made their home in 24 Ingram Avenue - a luxurious house with a swimming pool - previously home to Sir Arthur Elvin, the former owner of Wembley stadium.

It also starred as Kevin Costner's home in his current film The Upside of Anger.

The road which is one of the 20 richest in the country is just a stone's throw from the homes of Jonathan Ross and Richard and Judy.

The house has been empty since 1993 because developers are trying to get plans to demolish it approved by the conservation body the Suburb Trust.

Calin said: "I do a lot of work here landscape gardening and saw the house.

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"We are responsible people and we want to have a good relationship with neighbours, the owners and the police, so we cleaned it up.

"This is the best possible way because otherwise the building is empty. It is an amazing house and area - but we are easily noticed, our cars aren't the best on the road."

Squatters are targeting mansions in the area because developers are leaving properties abandoned to try to cash in on rising house prices or to force planning authorities to pass controversial schemes.

In recent months million pound homes on The Bishops Avenue, Fitzjohn's Avenue and Avenue Road have been claimed by groups of squatters.

Calin continued: "I was living in a squat in Willesden two times the size of this with two others.

"If someone wants to squat they just have to do a bit of research, it is not difficult. I just wish I had the money to buy it myself."

The group spend their weekends having barbecues and sunbathing in the vast garden which has views of the Suburb's Turners Wood where Elizabeth Taylor played during her childhood.

Spare rooms are being used as a poker room, a DJing room and the gym.

Johny, 31, another squatter, said: "I was just amazed that on this road among all these rich people there could be a squat, but I am used to it now."

They are being supported by a woman whose family previously owned the house.

Maria Margaronis from South End Green grew up there.

She said: "I am really glad someone is living there so long as it isn't being knocked down.

"If they are looking after it, good for them."

Owner Vertical Properties Limited is currently involved in a Lands Tribunal to win permission to demolish the house.

The company claims it is uninhabitable and wants to replace it with two mansions, worth about £10million.

Trust manager Jane Blackburn said: "We have been saying all along it could easily be put back into use. We have received some complaints about people living there but there is nothing aggressive.

"It is just not what you would expect there - people playing football, hanging out of windows smoking and chatting."

Vertical Properties Limited was not available for comment.