The four people arrested last night at the Railton Hotel on Station Road in Lancaster were released from Lancaster Police Station at 4.50pm today without having been charged with any offence. See previous story 'Occupy Lancaster: 4 arrested as Police raid Railton Hotel Squat'.
The crowd of supporters who had maintained a vigil outside the police station around the clock since their arrest welcomed them with cheers and the group moved in an impromptu parade through the City centre back to the Railton, to join the 'guerilla crochet' group (see picture below) which had been keeping busy there all day.
watch video on YouTube) and police had guarded it around the clock since then until it was finally secured by a workman at 4.30pm, shortly before the four Occupy Lancaster protesters were released.
The Occupy Lancaster group released a statement this afternoon:
"There are over 1 million empty properties in the UK, 350,000 of these have been vacant for over a year. Money is being spent on keeping these places empty with no benefit to communities and with negative devaluation of properties in the surrounding area. Criminalising squatting in the middle of a housing crisis, as the Con-Dem government plan to do, is only going to make matters worse.
The Railton Hotel has been derelict for a decade and the situation remains stagnant. The building is in a state of disrepair and dereliction, an eyesore in the heart of Lancaster, and often the first impression of our beautiful city gained by visitors using the railway station.
The same penalties apply to those using violence or the threat of violence to gain entry to a property without such legal process. Alternatively, the police need to provide irrefutable evidence of criminal damage or forced entry. The police informed us that they had been made aware that the building had been secured by us and, initially, seemed to accept our Section 6 rights. Local CPSOs and officers who had been on the scene at the hotel were good-humoured in nature, in keeping with their previously supportive role during the Occupation of Dalton Square (30 November – 24 December). One even gave recommendations on the planting of winter vegetables for our proposed Community Allotment.
However … how things changed! By 7pm, the vans had arrived. An estimated 40-50 police officers (a large number of whom revealed they had been drafted in from East Lancashire) surrounded the building, or patrolled the vicinity. Occupy Lancaster quickly nominated a legal observation team who were in dialogue with the commanding officer. We have records of the discussions. At approximately 8.15 pm, the commanding officer proposed that two police be permitted entry to the building to assess if there had been any criminal damage. Whilst this was still under discussion, the police set to work deploying a battering ram to break through the front door. It was a noisy and chaotic scene. Once they had gained entry, the police arrested the four occupants who were inside at the time.
We have two major concerns: (a) no evidence of forced entry or criminal damage was produced by the police (as required by law), and (b) the police did not produce necessary documentation upon our request in order to legally validate their actions. Therefore, Occupy Lancaster has strong reasons to believe that the police themselves have failed to follow proper legal procedure. If we are correct, this has profound implications for civil society.
Occupy is a peaceful, nonviolent and inclusive movement which campaigns on issues of social and economic justice. Demonstrations have taken place in over 1000 cities across the world, from the financial heartlands of Wall Street to high schools in Chile, St Paul’s Cathedral to our very own Dalton Square. It saddens us to see the police, who are themselves innocent victims of the financial crisis, being ordered to use what we consider to be disproportionate force against peaceful protestors.
You may have seen that the police’s heavy-handed eviction has already received national news coverage from the Guardian and the BBC(1). Videos of the eviction have gone viral all over the world on YouTube. This story will not go away. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be contacted. An experienced legal team is being assembled. We are currently considering our options. Meanwhile, a request will be made under the Freedom of Information Act to find out how much this police action has cost the taxpayer.
Next time you pass by a dilapidated, derelict, defunct and crumbling eyesore of a building like the Railton Hotel, or any building deliberately left to go to waste by absentee landlords and ladies, we hope you will consider … what could these buildings – with a bit of imagination and hard graft by the community - become?"