On Monday morning, at 4:15am, homeless people who had set up a night shelter and squat above the BetFred shop opposite Manchester Town Hall, were brutally evicted by a private security firm backed by Greater Manchester Police (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
A picture of just how brutal that eviction was is now emerging, backed by video evidence currently in the hands of solicitors the Salford Star understands...
Chris Blaine, one of the squat's organisers, tells how the 17 people sheltering at the refuge were given time only to take what they could carry, and were told that, as is standard practice, they could return to claim the remainder of their possessions.
"That didn't happen this time" says Chris "The security firm hired – who gave the name of a firm that doesn't exist anymore - broke every health and safety rule there was to break, and spent the next two days taunting us, smashing up our stuff and throwing it from the top of the fire escape stairs into a skip in the back alley of what was the entrance.
"At one point a clear plastic bag was thrown into the skip which was full of bedding and a young lady's nightclothes" he recalls "One of the lads looked up to see if they were throwing anything, which they weren't, tells them he's going to grab a bag, jumps into the skip and they're stood watching him. Then one of the 'security firm' says something to his friend and picks up a crate of glass bottles, looks up, sees where he is in the skip and throws it on his head.
"I showed the video to a police sergeant at the scene and he said that as far as he's concerned it was assault and he would take it further" Chris adds "We took the video to the police station and it went from 'assault' to an 'accident'...
"The 'security firm' hired by the billionaire who owns the property set fire to our couch, put their foot through our tv, smashed up all our things and put them in a skip, including the work of lads and lasses who are at college and university; it's unacceptable" he explains "17 people were brutalised, robbed of everything they own and thrown into the street – it was raining, it was windy, it was freezing..."
All 17 homeless people then took refuge in a new empty building on ultra affluent King Street/South King Street. The property is owned by Aviva Investors Pensions Ltd, which bought the property in 2010 for £8.4million, and, according to its last set of accounts, has assets of £1.6billion, including £971million worth of investment properties from which it earned £56.8million in 2016.
"If I can, I'm going to open this up as a night shelter, Hotel Homeless; it will be free to stay and dry" says Chris.
The parent company of Aviva Investors Pensions Ltd is Aviva, known for its insurance sales, and the company is keen to point out its 'social purpose' on its website...
"One of our values is to 'care more'" Aviva states "We care more about our customers, our people, and our communities – the societies we are part of..."
Aviva Investors Pensions, however, is taking the homeless people to court, to the Civil Justice Centre tomorrow at 2:55pm, to get a possession order for its property.
In the court papers, directed to Christopher Blaine and Persons Unknown, a witness statement by someone called Jonathan Powell notes that the Fire Brigade and Manchester City Council were informed of the squat...
"Alex King at the City Council told us he is aware of the group" Powell states, adding "He expressed a view that they would not be interested in arranging any relocation, because they are activists raising awareness to their cause."
Activists who don't want to be relocated? "I really hope Alex King doesn't work for the homeless team, he's just shown himself right up" fumes Chris "He needs to be educated, to come to the squat and meet 16 homeless people."
Indeed, around the building are people who would literally be on the streets were it not for this refuge; people who are acting out of desperation, while also making a political point.
As the rough sleeping figures keep increasing, Manchester Council is spending £330million on refurbishing its Town Hall. Chris says that the homeless will carry on moving from empty building to empty building "until the Council pull their finger out and do what they need to do; affordable social housing.
"It's dead straight forward" he adds "No funding is not an excuse. I'm looking around town and seeing funding for all kinds of things including for the Town Hall. No-one asked if we wanted to go into debt for that building, and I'm sure a lot of people would like to see an end to homelessness and rough sleeping rather than that."
GM Mayor, Andy Burnham's attempts so far to sort the issue are met with contempt... "He's a lightweight, he said he had new ideas, said he had new powers, new funding, where is it?" asks Chris "I've not seen any of it in the city centre. I say to him 'Support your community, start building affordable social homes and provide what is needed for people to stay there'..."
In the meantime, squats will keep springing up, not purely to make a political point but out of sheer necessity. And donations of blankets, bedding, clothes and food to replace items heartlessly skipped by security heavies are being replaced by fresh donations, as the public show support.