Liverpool: Love Activists imprisoned for Bank of England occupation – Free the Love Bank 5!

Five Activists who had occupied Liverpool’s old Bank of England building to provide shelter and feed the city’s homeless people have been jailed for almost 3 months each [see prisoner details at bottom of article].

The Love Activists moved into the unoccupied building in the middle of April to set up a support centre for Liverpool’s homeless people, incorporating places to sleep, an advice centre and a street kitchen, from where they were evicted in the early hours of 12 May and the homeless activists arrested.

The defendants were charged in relation to the occupation of the old bank building in Castle Street, Liverpool city centre, as part of a protest over lack of support for the homeless and government austerity.

John Hall, 50; John Rice, 22; Chelsea Stafford, 19; James Jones, 20, and James Allanson, 20, all pleaded guilty to trespass while a possession order was in place.

The court also heard a minimum of £91,573 was spent in policing the protest, while the operation to arrest the protesters cost around £27,000. Almost all this budget was used in paying overtime to officers so as to create a heavy oppressive police presence around the building where they used a dispersal order to clear supporters away from the building and, the activists said, were refusing to allow supplies to be taken into the building.

The Love Activists’ occupation had growing support among residents and businesses of Liverpool. A poll on the Liverpool Echo website at that time gave a majority of those asked believing the group should stand firm against their eviction order.

The five defendants, who were all of ‘no fixed abode’, were part of a much larger group trying to assist the local community, many of which who were also homeless, who had occupied the bank, using the law that ‘squatting’ or using empty commercial premises to live in is still not a crime.

Prosecutor Miss Rowan said during the protest large numbers of people congregated outside, which led to an “influx of vagrants and rough sleeping” in the area.

A defending lawyer said in their favour  “In a time of austerity when billions have been spent on banks, services for the homeless are being cut… these are conscionable people who have chosen to engage in an act of civil disobedience”

Though it appears the appeals for clemency fell on deaf ears as District Judge Andrew Shaw in summing up declared:

 “Their selfish actions cost this community highly both financially and also by disrupting the day to day life of the city and its people.

Supporters of the men were further incensed when it was revealed that earlier in the same court a paedophile John Evans, 35,  on whose computer and external hard drives were found a “colossal” total of 28,000 child porn images was just sentenced to a three year community order.

There were disturbances inside and outside the court as the mens sentences were handed down.

One man in his late fifties was dressed in a superman costume as he shouted at officers: “Feeding the homeless is not a crime! Homeless not banks!”

They waved hand-painted banners saying: “Resisting homelessness” and “Homes not Banks”.

Two further people were arrested during the protest which spilled over from the court area onto the Strand behind, and at once point blocked the southbound carriageway during rush hour.

During their short time in the building they managed to create mass attention locally and nationally to the spiralling homeless situation in the City, whilst trying trying to provide basic essential items to Liverpool’s homeless such as shelter, food and companionship.

Leading Liverpool charity the Whitechapel Centre said whilst the occupiers were resisting attempts to move them on, provision for the city’s homeless was “stretched”. David Carter, chief executive of The Whitechapel Centre, told the Liverpool ECHO the number of beds for those without homes in the city was “stretched”

The Whitechapel Centre alone had seen a 32% increase over the last three years in those needing its help and in the previous year worked with 2,485 people who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

Mr Carter said: “Our outreach team have been in regular, daily contact with the Love Activists at the former Bank of England building on Castle Street, offering our services to anyone who is homeless or concerned about their housing situation. The Love Activists have provided access so that we have been able to undertake assessments of need and offer appropriate support and accommodation solutions.”

The Whitechapel Centre is an independent charity working with people who are homeless, socially excluded or in housing poverty.

A statement released from the Love Activists: after the jailing of the five sadly recognised  “It is a difficult time for all Love Activists, and the family and friends of our activists in custody tonight.

Love Activists are outraged and disgusted by the sentences handed out to the Love Bank Five today. The judge today showed a clear prejudice against the activists, as they openly applied their personal opinions to legislative law: they declared that it is ‘selfish’ for someone to openly help homeless people or indeed be homeless yourself.

They took into account the alleged damage caused to the building, of which, of course, there was no evidence that the Love Bank Five had anything to do with. All five did, in fact, state that they were ‘appalled’ by the damage others caused in the building. The Judge implied that they were somehow responsible by daring to provide a sanctuary and safe haven for damaged and vulnerable people in society.

We, Love Activists, stand in full solidarity with the Love Bank Five, and strongly oppose the harsh sentencing imposed today by a judge clearly lacking impartiality. We fully support any campaign to see the unjust sentences overturned.”

We at Streets Kitchen agree with their sentiment.

From Manchester to London and now in Liverpool, it’s very evident that there is what can be seen as a class war on the poor and activists. Homeless activists who are just merely trying to assist others, helping those that they can who are just that little less fortunate than them.

In Manchester we are seeing people facing criminal charges and potential custody for living in or supporting and assisting homeless camps, in London we have seen people facing prosecutions just for feeding homeless people.

Now in Liverpool we have the situation where five decent innocent people who utilised a longtime empty building just to shelter people from the streets and feed them are in jail. It’s insane.

There are over one million empty properties that overnight could easily house everyone who needs or wants shelter. Theres billions and billions of pounds that are owed by the tax avoiding companies, there’s an economic crisis created by the real criminals in the banking system and those in power who let them ride roughshod freely over any country they wish to. The real criminals are those in power who allowed this, whilst people die on our streets and children go hungry.

If we are to be criminalised for being ‘selfish’ and demanding the impossible, so be it..

We know there is a simple solution to homelessness.. Housing First is a successful proven model.

We encourage more people to get involved now in helping others, after all they can’t jail us all!

There will be further details of solidarity actions and urgent prisoner support coming soon with those whose only crime was to care and do something about it… You can show your support by emailing them details below…

[From Streets Kitchen on September 18th]