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hey called themselves the Da! Collective – a group of students, artists and musicians who squatted in a Mayfair mansion worth millions of pounds.


T Claiming to have accessed the Upper Grosvenor Street property


through an unlocked window, they filled the derelict house with works of art, ranging from a yellow cardboard photo booth to test tubes of capers suspended over a pink baby bath. The 30-room mansion played host to philosophy discussions,


poetry readings, experimental film screenings and live music, and the squatters invited journalists, social media users and curious passers- by to take part. Dubbed “Britain’s poshest squat”, it was one of many properties


that have been occupied in Mayfair in recent years, along with the former Reader’s Digest HQ on Curzon Street, and a Georgian mansion on Park Lane that ended up getting trashed in a rave. Riot police were called to the former home of the Earl of Lincoln after a “night of mayhem” advertised on Facebook resulted in 2,500 revellers pitching up for a party. It descended into anarchy, with violence breaking out between rival drug gangs. Park Lane was shut down and, following a two-hour stand-off, the building was cleared. However, the owners were left with thousands of pounds’ worth of damage, with graffiti sprayed on walls and fireplaces, and doors ripped off their hinges. Now, following a change in the law, squatting in a residential


property has become a criminal rather than a civil offence, punishable with a six-month prison sentence, a £5,000 fine, or both. However, the ruling does not include commercial buildings. Under the new legislation, which came into force last month, police can act swiftly to remove squatters on behalf of tenants and


owners. Those who own residential property but don’t live there, such as councils, landlords and second-home owners, are also protected. “For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs,” said justice minister Crispin Blunt. “Hard-working homeowners need and deserve a justice system


where their rights come first. This new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.”


Arguments against criminalising squatting have ranged from the


reasoned, with concerns that more people could be forced to sleep on the streets, to the risible: one newspaper blogger protested that the future of British pop music was in danger. Perhaps Boy George, who famously squatted for years before hitting the big time, might agree. But for Mayfair estate agents, the decision to criminalise squatting is a welcome one.


Slamming the door on squatters


SQUATTERS WHO TOOK OVER A £22.5 MILLION MAYFAIR HOUSE ARE EVICTED PHOTO: IAN NICHOLSON/PA WIRE


PROPERTY: Kate White kate@pubbiz.com


property


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