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Police use new law to kick out squatters
POLICE have used a new law to prevent suspected drug dealers from squatting in two Southend flats. Using the law for the first time in Southend, officers stormed the flats in Fairfax Drive, Westcliff , and Sutton Road, Southend.
The teenage squatters were said to have pushed out a terrified, vulnerable tenant from the Sutton Road flat and taken it over as their own.
Police said they received reports of drug abuse at both addresses after the teens moved in.
The squatters weren’t at the addresses when police made their move on Wednesday afternoon so no arrests were made, but South Essex Homes sealed up the properties with steel doors to prevent anyone getting back in.
The tough action was taken by Southend Police using the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, brought in at the beginning of September.
It makes squatting a criminal offence, punishable by six months in jail or a £5,000 fine. Previously it was a civil offence and South Essex Homes had to obtain a court order.
Essex is only the third force in England and Wales to make use of this new legislation.
Insp Bill Potter, of Southend police, said both addresses had previously been raided for drugs and there had been complaints about antisocial behaviour.
He said: “Our actions will bring some stability to the affected neighbourhoods. This new legislation will allow us to act swiftly where there are specific breaches of the new law and give respite to a community.
“The new legislation is not designed to deal with disagreements between landlords and their tenants, or issues with authorised tenants remaining within properties.
“These disputes will remain subject of the appropriate civil law. The new squatting legislation will reclaim residential properties which have been illegally entered and where trespassers still remain.”
Sgt Chris Bramhill, of Southend police, was involved in the Sutton Road operation and said there had been at least three people squatting there.
He said: “They’d moved in, terrified the actual tenant who pays the council, and he was scared to go back.
“They had people hanging around the front doors, people coming and going at the address at all hours of day, probably drug dealing.
“If we were patrolling the area and knocked on the door, they would just jump out of the back window.”
The address in Fairfax Drive is believed to have had at least five people squatting there.