Bedford House, on Wheler Street, was inhabited by a collective of artists who had been organising small-scale cultural events to open the building to local people. The group had lived in there over the last six months, but the property has been empty for over two decades.
As the squatters look for a new place to live, their plans may be disrupted. On Tuesday the Government have scheduled a debate on a bill that would outlaw squatters rights making it a criminal offence to move into an un-occupied property.
The squatter organisation SQUASH are coordinating action from Monday night to focus attention on parliament and to protest against this attack on the legal right to put empty buildings to use.
According to SQUASH a consultation by the Ministry of Justice f (MoJ) ‘Options for Dealing with Squatters’ was published yesterday. There were 2,217 responses and over 90% of responses argued against taking any action on squatting.
The eviction of Bedford House started around 9am and passed without any disturbances. The residents had held a party all through the night after which a hard core of ten people had barricaded themselves in. Bailiffs, escorted by police, managed to clear the building by 11am. The events were covered live by EastLondonLines, a report can be read here.
The grand redbrick site was built in 1864 to house the Bedford Institute – a charitable organisation aiming to alleviate poverty in Spitalfields by providing educational courses, lectures and religious meetings. The building was converted in 1946 for industrial use as a warehouse and bottling plant.
The identity of the owner of Bedford House is unknown, but according to local residents the building belongs to one of the ten richest people in Britain. A council employee told EastLondonLines that the property previously belonged to the Samuel Smiths Brewery. The brewers applied for planning permission in 1997 to build a pub, staff accommodation and offices in the building, a bid that was rejected by Tower Hamlets Council.
According to neighbour Derrick Robinson, 48, the owner of the building wants to develop the property but has not been given permission by Tower Hamlets council, as the building is grade II listed. Robinson thought that the owner was letting the building rot until the council allow him convert it into flats.
EastLondonLines has submitted a Freedom of Information request to Tower Hamlets Council and an application for an official search of the index map to the Land Registry in order to find out who owns Bedford House.
Pictures: Tabby Kinder