Monday, 30 January 2012

A letter regarding Occupy Liverpool

I received a copy of this letter today from a sympathetic resident of 1 Crosshall Street, an apartment building near Occupy Liverpool. Those occupying the building will likely be familiar with the information provided, but I think it’s an interesting read nonetheless. I have copied the wording of the body of the letter verbatim and provided contact details of the signees at the bottom.

The body of the letter reads as follows:

Dear Resident 
Occupy Liverpool
We are writing to you to update you on the Occupy Liverpool protests. As you be aware, a group of protestors are squatting in the Tinlings Building on Crosshall Street and have been there for the last couple of weeks.
Residents living in your building have contacted us with concerns around safety and noise.
We have been working closely with the Police and the City Council’s Environmental Team to deal with these issues and wanted to let you know where things are up to:
  • The Tinlings Building is subject to a prohibition notice served by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS), the protestors have been advised on the risk from fire and the presence of asbestos in the building but have chosen to remain in the building. MFRS have therefore discharged their duty of care   
  • The building owners, Huntsmere Developments Ltd have commenced legal action to obtain an injunction to take the building back. It is estimated that it will be 3 to 4 weeks before the injunction is obtained. Once they have the injunction, Huntsmere will appoint bailiffs to remove the protesters, the Police’s role being to prevent a breach of the peace.
  • The occupation of the building is lawful until such time as the injunction is obtained.
We would ask residents to continue to report any specific issues they have with the protestors.

With kind regards
Councillors Nick Small, Sharon Sullivan & Christine Banks
Labour Councillor for Central Ward

The councillors’ contact details are as follows:

Councillor Nick Small: 07986 445 820
Councillor Sharon Sullivan: 0151 225 2366
Councillor Christine Banks: 07732 222 940

Also of interest will be the website of Huntsmere Developments Ltd. You can find them at

Judging from their portfolio, the Tinlings Building, after many years lying empty and abandoned while space such as this is at a premium in Liverpool, is set to become, at an as yet unspecified date in the future, yet more luxury apartments which those most in need of housing in the city will never be able to afford. The space has much more potential under Occupy Liverpool’s plans to turn the building into a community centre.

As Liverpool City Council abandons spaces such as these and turns them over to the private sector (which often leaves spaces empty for years) and at the same time cuts funding to services on which residents of the city rely, activists should be prepared to occupy spaces such as these and turn them over to positive use for the people of Liverpool. I’m sure if this were to happen, the public, including residents of the apartment building mentioned earlier, would give it their support.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Peaceful Anti-cuts Demonstration in Liverpool Attacked by Merseyside Police

I arrived at the demonstration just after 4pm.  Exchange Street West, to side of town hall, was already closed off by police, presumably to “facilitate” the demo.  Councillors had already entered the building and there was around 100 people outside, more milling around than anything. The atmosphere was subdued compared to recent protests in the same location.  The council meeting began a little later and the demonstration moved along the side street to be closer to the council chamber windows and to make itself heard to those inside.  After some time elapsed with protestors shouting slogans and demanding answers from those within the council chamber, but basically milling around in the barricaded area on the side street, an attempt was made by the police to kettle the demonstration using officers on foot and mounted officers, and the situation immediately became tense.

Realising the position the demonstration was now in, the decision was made to move to the front of the town hall, where Dale Street, Castle Street and Water Street meet, and where there was more space and no barricades.  The demonstration then blocked this junction in response to police tactics.   During this time, I had an altercation with a bus driver who drove his bus at me and another demonstrator as, in his opinion, we were too slow to move out of his way.  

I was threatened with arrest, presumably for a breach of the peace, after firmly asking a police officer to remove his hands from my chest (yes I swore at him). After informing the officer that nobody else could hear what I had said over the background noise and swearing at him was not a crime, he (ironically) called me a gobshite and moved away.  A mounted officer then proceeded to walk her horse into me while my back was turned, and then accuse me of hitting the horse with a flag.  I responded to this blatant attempt at intimidation by informing the officer that my flag hadn’t touched the horse and questioned the wisdom of barging someone from behind with such a powerful animal and was again threatened with arrest for a crime that doesn’t exist.

After a few tense minutes, several protestors sat down in the road.  They were urged to get to their feet by other demonstrators and at this point the police began to pile into the crowd, violently arresting several protestors.  Attempts to de-arrest the protestors led to more violence from the police and the situation began to escalate.  Following another threat of arrest, I turned round to see a comrade’s face covered with blood coming from his nose following a punch from a police officer.  Several protestors were wrestled to the ground by large numbers of officers and police made a concerted effort to try to make sure none of this was caught on camera by riding horses into the crowd to block their view.

Police appeared to be targeting the younger members of the group from Occupy Liverpool and the atmosphere was one of intimidation.  Protestors were being dragged and carried to waiting vans and a stand-off developed across Dale Street.  The road remained blocked, which suggested that the police tactics were not in response to the actions of the demonstration.  Numbers had diminished and to try to avoid round 2 with the police, who had now been reinforced with several Matrix units armed with tasers, the decision was taken to mobilise the demonstration.  We returned, via a tour of Lord Street and Liverpool One, back to Occupy Liverpool’s building, attempting but ultimately failing to lose the police, who were now headed by black-clad and taser-carrying Matrix officers.  During this excursion, one of the demonstrators at the rear of the group, who was riding a bike and accompanied by her child, was accosted by several Matrix officers with the excuse that she shouldn't be riding on the pavement.  The atmosphere became tense again as the group surrounded the officers and the lady was eventually allowed to go on her way.  After arriving at the building, police began to keep more of a distance and once the demonstrators had dispersed, the police did likewise.

For me, this was not a spur of the moment event.  The atmosphere at the demonstration had deteriorated rapidly since the beginning, largely due to police attempts to kettle the demonstration next to the town hall - an unnecessarily confrontational tactic in the circumstances.  When this dubious tactic failed, the police almost immediately became overtly aggressive.  The failed eviction of Occupy Liverpool from a city-centre squat a couple of weeks ago may also have contributed to the attitude of the police and my suspicion is that the police were last night attempting to reassert their authority in the city following that mishandled embarrassment and criticism of their handling of civil disturbance in the summer of last year.  I have no doubt that if the demonstration didn’t mobilize following the stand-off, the police would have waded in again and made more violent arrests and I am sure that if individuals were observed leaving the area alone, they would also have been arrested.  Last night could mark a change in approach to the policing of protest in Liverpool and the real possibility is that wherever they can, police will attempt to intimidate protestors to stop them demonstrating again.  But many will return, and after the evidence of last night, they are sure to better understand what the police are really all about.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A short post about squats and Occupy Liverpool

This post is written against a background in which Occupy Liverpool recently “took possession” of an abandoned building in Liverpool city centre. The building “belongs” to Liverpool City Council and has been empty and available for sale for several years.

There is currently a battle over the public perception of squats and squatters, with politicians and the media desperate to portray them in a negative light while ignoring the scandal of empty, dilapidated spaces. The state clearly sees squatting as a threat to its authority and a direct challenge to the capitalist system itself, and it has gone to great lengths to try to criminalize it outright. I believe the best way to counter this is for squatters and occupiers to turn squatted buildings such as these over to positive social use as spaces for discourse, education and practical action, and perhaps as shelters, soup kitchens, medical facilities, counselling centres and a place where the public can be taught practical skills.

I believe the public would be far more supportive of these abandoned spaces being used in this way than of the “owners” of the spaces to allow them to rot, or to be turned into yet more “luxury” apartments unaffordable to the average local worker. Imaginative and positive use of such spaces can only be beneficial in showing that spaces such as these can be put to better use than as overpriced city centre luxury dwellings.

I hope that Occupy Liverpool can find suitable uses for their new location to provide something positive to the community of Liverpool and to allow the group to visibly challenge media perceptions of squats and the government’s continuing desire to criminalize squatting. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A report from the attempted eviction of Occupy Liverpool

After seeing the call for help on Facebook I arrived around 5pm to find occupiers in the street confronting police near a yellow Matrix van following the arrest of 3 of the occupiers by plainclothes officers who didn’t identify themselves properly.  I learned that the occupiers had left the building voluntarily to talk to the police and had subsequently been arrested on suspicion of the possession of a controlled substance. After arrival I had noticed a couple of large men in track suits standing to one side, watching the proceedings. They stood out a mile as EDL and I asked several occupiers if they recognized them. They didn’t seem to be taking photographs or filming anybody at the scene so we decided to ignore them for now.

Police were standing guard at the entrances to the building but were, of course, unable to gain access. Section 6 notices had been taped to each entrance. Police were also denying access to anybody on the street, declaring the building to be a crime scene.  When quizzed about what the crime was, the police refused to answer.  More police arrived and there was now probably 20-30 officers in attendance, including several Matrix vans and dog units. Following a short impasse, occupiers inside the building requested food and water, which was then brought to the site by occupiers on the street. Formal permission to pass the food and water into the building was requested and refused, and anybody attempting to pass food and water into the building was threatened with immediate arrest under again unspecified laws. Officers were dispatched to each window on the ground floor to physically prevent food and water being passed in.

After communication with legal representation an announcement was made that the occupiers inside the building were entitled to food and water, and an attempt was made to pass the food and water into the building. This was met by an immediate and unnecessarily violent response by the police in front of the windows. The bag of food and water was ripped from one occupier’s hands and police began to get physical with several people on the street before being forced to retreat back to the windows by the now angry crowd. It was at this point, as tensions threatened to boil over, that the officer(s) in charge approached their subordinates and gave the order to stand down. The police beat a hasty retreat back to their vehicles and began to leave, and we were then successful in quickly getting the food and water into the building. One woman on the scene, accompanied by several occupiers, was invited to talk to the officer in charge and was assured the police wouldn’t return. This was taken by many with a pinch of salt. At this point we learned that the three arrested occupiers had now been released and were on their way back, and I had it confirmed to me that someone had recognized our track suited friends as EDL. They left as soon as the police disappeared.

Morale seemed high and the occupiers seemed determined to carry on in some form. I also had an in-depth discussion with somebody who had turned up to help about squats in Liverpool and the possibility of turning squats to a positive social use in addition to providing shelter for those in occupation. I left at around 9pm, but not before several drive-bys from the police in cars and Matrix vans. A possible indication of a police strategy of intimidation over the coming hours, days and weeks. The occupiers will need to remain vigilant.