Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Police make an arrest outside Hackney Town Hall
Police make an arrest outside Hackney Town Hall. Photo: Nick Cobbing

Hackneyed Hypocrisy - The Saga Continues

Squatters battle Hackney Council's 'para-municipal' eviction squad

Squall 8, Autumn 1994, p.22.

A large demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall on July 20th ended up as a brief occupation inside. Over 250 squatters and supporters gathered to protest against the council's ‘para-municipal’ eviction squad, the Tenancy Audit Team (TAT), and the worryingly right-wing (Labour) Chair of Housing, Simon Matthews (see Squalls 5, 6 & 7 for previous bouts).

The occupation and disruption of the first full council meeting since the local elections was broken up by the police, who violently intervened to eject the occupiers. The seven people, unlucky enough to have been picked on, have been charged with criminal damage (to the town hall doors) and obstruction. Because of the presence of the ‘alternative media’, wide coverage was passed on to TV and radio, with even BBC South East news using extensive ‘alternative media’ video coverage. This so incensed John McCafferty, Leader of the Council, that he didn’t even try to defend his council’s housing policy on TV; all he could do was whinge about how organised the squatters were in getting ‘their’ coverage shown. The truth is obviously getting painful...

McCafferty's major problem is that the local squatting community is effectively using all legal means available to expose the corrupt and illegal practices of the Housing Department. A test case for illegal eviction will be heard soon, while all 60 councillors have been formally asked to oppose the CJB in Hackney and to investigate the actions of the TAT.

The Hackney seven, as the arrested protesters have come to be known, have had injunctions taken out against them by the council banning them from any council property or squats in the borough, especially ‘The Crescent’ (see below). Two of those charged are a teacher and a social worker who actually work for Hackney. At the moment the council are trying to get them both suspended from their jobs, before the charges come to court. In addition to this vindictive scapegoating, those arrested were also the people who suffered most injuries from the police assaults.

In reality, the squatter and cooperative communities are probably the only groups in the borough actively campaigning against the ineptitude and corruption of the Housing Dept., mainly because these groups are the ones most affected by it. Private owners and tenants don’t have to deal with the council, while council tenants only seem to make a noise when they are directly affected by incompetence (eg repairs).

Meanwhile, housing associations have done very well, thank you, out of the sell-off of empty council properties previously looked after by tenants, squatters and co-ops. No wonder Matthews and the TAT are so vindictive - the squatters keep reminding everyone how corrupt and non-existent Hackney's housing ‘policy’ is. After all, where there are lots of empty properties, there are a lot of squatters... get rid of the squatters and you reduce the vocal opposition.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Simon Matthews is the only Labour Chair of Housing who has publicly welcomed the new anti-squatting proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill.

Another example of vindictiveness appeared when a local resident wrote to the Hackneyed Gazette in August complaining about the TAT evictions and the empties on his estate. Instead of answering his questions, the writer was immediately investigated by Bernard Crofton, Director of Housing, no less.

Crofton wrote to the paper soon after, saying: "There is no tenant or leaseholder by the name of Mark Christian living on the Clissold Estate." Of course, Mr Christian, as a council tenant, wrote in under an alias because he suspected he might be investigated. Just as well really; a further fine example of Stalinist local politics.

A worse example of the rot-infested decades of Labour power in Hackney was the recent final eviction of ‘The Crescent’ on Stoke Newington Church Street, a well-known squat of about 40 flats in a beautiful listed Victorian crescent next to Clissold Park (see 'Crescent Evicted' page 7 and 'Obituary For A Crescent' in letters page 53).

Although squatted for many years, the council only began showing an interest in evicting it after it became apparent that the Hackney Homeless Festival was being organised largely from there. The first year of the festival (1993), John McCafferty discovered that the organisers were local squatters and tried to make them promise not to give a festival platform to squatting organisations or speakers, threatening to withdraw the £2,000 council funding of the event!

Sensibly, the organisers ignored his attempts at suppression of free speech and got their funding as well. But the Crescent was now on the council hit list...

These are just a few examples of what is now, thankfully, public knowledge in Hackney. The proverbial tip of the iceberg no doubt... watch this space.

Related Articles
Hackney TAT Man Suspended - sordidness inside Hackney Council. Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995.