Article published: Wednesday, July 1st 2015
The third eviction attempt of the homeless protest camp was heard at the Manchester Civil Justice Centre on Monday. The council sought an eviction order for the protest camps in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield and a districtwide injunction banning all further homeless protest camps from the city centre. The main argument of the prosecution, as set out in the eviction papers served to the campaigners, is that the camp has been the site of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.
Wesley Dove, a homeless campaigner and named defendant in the case, has been with the protest camp since it was set up in Albert Square on 15 April. Asked why the camp had split up into two sites, he said: “Some camp residents moved to Castlefield for safety because people who weren’t part of the protest started coming to the camp drinking, smashing bottles, being violent and beating others up. It made people run away scared.”
Dove was asked if the police intervened during the violent incidents at the camp: “Although being asked on several occasions, they have sat and watched it without intervening”, he said. “The camp has 24-hour CCTV on it and for 12 hours a day you have Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) watching people drink alcohol, but all they are doing is gathering evidence to make the camp look bad.”
The extent of the controversial blanket ban was revealed for the first time in documents submitted to the court by Manchester City Council. The north west boundary of the banned area is formed by the River Irwell stretching from Manchester Arena to near the Pomona Strand tram station next to the Manchester Ship Canal. The north east boundary is formed by the A665 from the junction near Manchester Arena to where it joins the Mancunian way. The southern tip of the exclusion area lies on the junction of Booth St East and Boundary Lane.
Solicitor Ben Taylor, who represents the homeless campaigners, told the Manchester Evening News (MEN) that breaking the ban could lead to “being committed to serve a two-year prison sentence for doing nothing more than not having a home in which to sleep”. If the ban is allowed in Manchester, other councils could also follow suit, using the ruling as a precedent.
A Manchester council spokesman told the MEN: “We are applying for an injunction following more than 10 weeks of disruption to residents and businesses caused by people on these camps, as well as anti-social behaviour which has included the burning of bonfires, vandalism, street drinking and the intimidation of members of the public.”
Marilyn McCarthy, a member of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union (BFAWU) from Salford, has regularly donated food to the camp and came to court to show her support.
She found it “disgraceful” how the council has handled the protest. “It could happen to any one of us”, she said. “The cost of legal fees could have been used instead to find the protesters somewhere to live.” A passionate critic of the bedroom tax, she points out the impact it had on the housing situation in the city and the direct link to the protest: “One of the girls is homeless and at the camp because she couldn’t afford to pay the bedroom tax.”
The case was adjourned until 21 July to allow the defence and prosecution to prepare their arguments and to secure emergency legal funding for the two named defendants. Dove is still waiting to hear if he will receive emergency legal funding, because being homeless and not claiming benefits means he doesn’t automatically apply for legal aid. He was pleased with the outcome of the hearing: “I will go back to the camp to tell everyone they are safe and have got somewhere to stay for another three weeks.”
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