The Metropolitan Police has evicted two buildings recently squatted as part of actions against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSCB). And a personal account from one of the squatters shows once again how police escalate otherwise calm situations.
On 21 March, squatters issued a statement saying they’d occupied a former police station on Cavendish Road, Clapham, south London. The statement said this building was chosen because it was “the closest cop shop to where Sarah [Everard] was last seen”, highlighting her murder allegedly “by a serving Met police officer”. It also called for the “withdrawal” of the PCSCB and an end to femicide (the murder of women, usually on account of their gender or at the hands of men).
Meanwhile, a group under the banner of Resisting Anti-Trespass (RA-T) took over a former pizza shop on 23 March. As part of its own call out for a day of action, the group took over the old Vapiano restaurant on Wardour Street in Soho, central London, and distributed free pizza to visitors.
However, the Met evicted both squats within a week.
Police evicted the pizza shop squat on 25 March under what its occupiers described as the “pretext of a fake gas leak”. And they targeted the Clapham police building on 29 March. The latter saw its occupiers taking over a crane used by the evictors before eventually leaving the building:
People removed from crane and no arrests pic.twitter.com/mPDyXFWF3L
— NFA-AF (@nfa_antifascist) March 29, 2021
While the Clapham eviction appeared to pass with no violence or arrests, RA-T squatters faced a very different story.
RA-T said police evicted the former pizza restaurant over the course of eight hours. And during the eviction, squatters said officers “brutally assaulted 4 people”.
Speaking to Phoenix Media Co-op, a spokesperson for RA-T elaborated on what happened before police entered the building:
We were under constant surveillance of plain clothes and uniformed police, who tried to access the restaurant by deception and force. Since nothing worked, the gas leak was fabricated, and after a day-long siege, riot police entered the building.
They went on to describe what happened next:
One person [was] punched unconscious, woke up disorientated with a cop crushing their chest with a knee and several others sitting on them, obstructing breathing. This is an extremely traumatising situation, that can cause both physical harm, as there’s no way telling if their brain was getting enough oxygen, and is psychologically damaging.
The person is of a very fragile build, no one sane would dream of punching them ever, they needed a CT scan, and are still recovering. The damage this has done will be revealed in years to come.
And the squatters say there were scenes similar to those of the protests in Bristol:
Other injuries included head trauma caused by riot police weaponising shields to get us off the barricade.
The spokesperson told Phoenix Media Co-op that police arrested all of the squatters but released them without charge after 24 hours.
The police view
A spokesperson for the Met confirmed the gas leak story, telling Phoenix Media Co-op:
At 15:08hrs on Thursday, 25 March, police were called to assist gas engineers following a leak at a premises in Wardour Street, W1. A number of people were occupying the premises and had refused the engineers entry.
And they went on to say:
Officers attended and at 16:23hrs, Wardour Street was completely closed. A number of residents were evacuated and provisions were made for emergency housing. Officers gained entry and removed a number of individuals from the premises. Four males and five females were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. They were taken into custody and later released under investigation. The premises was made safe by engineers.
Regarding allegations of assault, the spokesperson said:
No formal complaints have been received in relation to the incident and there are no concerns around the conduct of any of the officers involved.
(Update from 2 April 2021: Following publication of this article, RA-T told Phoenix Media Co-op that there was only a total of four people inside the evicted Wardour Street building, while the Met statement said nine were arrested. RA-T told us that:
there were only 4 of us inside and the street was closed, there was no one outside… the whole point of our story is they brought the whole riot squad to punch around 4 people
When we approached the Met with the issue, a spokesperson responded:
That is the information that was provided to the Press Bureau. Our statement was approved by a number of senior officers who were involved with the investigation.
End of update.)
Police responding to protests in London, Bristol and Manchester since the 13 March Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard have faced accusations of consistently stirring tensions and creating confrontation. On the other hand, Bristol’s 30 March protest, which one journalist described as having “very few police”, remained calm.
The correlation isn’t incidental and, as the eviction on Wardour Street shows, it isn’t limited to street protest. Police repeatedly instigate turmoil in otherwise relaxed situations. Their actions are also held to a much lower standard than that of most members of the public, as shown by the 30 March report vindicating the Met’s policing of the Everard vigil.
But with the police being an armed wing of the state, whose intent from the outset was to suppress ‘unruly mobs’ while protecting capital, perhaps low standards are all we can expect. As a result, the PCSCB creating more excuses for them to incite violence is the last thing we want.