On 12 August, three days after the England riots had come to an end, Eric Pickles, the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, declared “looters should be evicted”.
Later that day, David Cameron gave his “full backing” for councils to evict entire families.
Wandsworth Council had already served an eviction notice on Maite de la Calva even though her 18-year-old son, Daniel Sartain-Clarke, is still yet to be convicted with riot related charges. The mother of two, who took no part in the London riots and has stated her fear for her eight-year-old daughter’s education and well-being, has accused the local authority of behaving like “fascists”.
Four London councils had publicly stated they would evict “rioters”: the Conservative-controlled Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham, and Labour’s Southwark and Greenwich.
Within a few days of Southwark’s announcement that 35 households had received a cautionary letter from the council a demonstration was called via Facebook. Around 40-50 people protested outside Southwark Town Hall. After a haphazard start, it was co-ordinated by activists present and Southwark Save Our Services. Although the demo was entirely peaceful, there was a significant presence of private security guards and community wardens wearing stab-proof vests, standing prominently in front of the Town Hall.
From this demonstration a number of residents and campaigners organised a mailing list to discuss the next steps and ensured an anti-”riot evictions” presence at South London council public meetings and “community conversations”.
Some Southwark Liberal Democrat councillors argued in meetings against any evictions but have not supported the locally organised campaign. Since then Southwark Council has backtracked and no evictions or further action have taken place.
Greenwich Council have started legal proceedings against a tenant of a single occupier tenancy in October. Defend Council Housing co-ordinated a demonstration and council sources have said that the Labour council have budgeted to spend hundred of thousands of pounds to pursue at least 20 riot evictions; yet they expect to lose.
The legal underpinning for these riot evictions is a housing civil law which enables a judge to cancel a tenancy if the tenant, or a visitor of the tenant, causes a nuisance within the locality. As the riots took place largely away from housing estates, these legal grounds are shaky (though “locality” has no legal definition).
However, Eric Pickles supports changing the law to allow councils to evict people from social housing even if the anti-social behaviour happened outside the local authority. He says this will prevent what he called “riot tourism”.
Last week the socialist lawyers’ group, the Haldane Society, held a meeting to back the campaign against the riot evictions. The Unite Housing Workers branch 1/1111 have given full backing to fight all evictions.
The campaign also has the support of one Wandsworth Labour councillor, the SWP and the Socialist Party.