A video of Greater Manchester Police ‘stealing’ and throwing away homeless protesters’ tents in St Ann’s Square has gone viral on social media – but their solicitor says ‘nothing short of a death’ will get the council to care.
The video was posted to Facebook by Wesley Hall – founder of a separate homeless charity Manchester Angels – the day after the eviction of Homeless Camp Mcr from St Ann’s Square on Friday August 14.
It has since been shared more than 1,200 times and viewed by more than 37,500 people.
The video clearly shows police officers and staff from a waste management company, picking up people’s tents and loading them into removal and rubbish trucks in the pouring rain despite pleas from the homeless campaigners to wait until the weather lets up.
Wesley said: “This is an infringement on our human rights. Taking away the shelter from a homeless person in the rain is absolutely disgusting and we need everyone in the whole of the United Kingdom to see what’s happening here.”
Commenters on the Facebook post have branded it ‘shocking’, ‘shameful’, and ‘outright fascism’.
MM spoke to the homeless protesters’ legal representative Ben Taylor from WTB Solicitors to find out how the eviction should have been carried out, and if the action of the officials constitutes theft.
He explained that an order for possession was made against the occupiers of St Ann’s Square ordering them to leave the property or the area by 7am on Friday morning.
Apparently the bailiffs only arrived at about 8:30am and proceeded to clear the site.
Mr Taylor said: “The fact that there were still tents on the site meant the bailiffs would clear the tents away.
“They have not been stolen – they should be somewhere where they can be picked up by their owners.”
However towards the end of the footage, tents are seen being thrown into the back of rubbish trucks.
It is arguable the property was disposed of because any application to reclaim it would have been denied on the grounds the applicant does not have a fixed address.
While the actions seen in the video are not illegal, the one thing the protesters have been fighting for since they first set up camp in Albert Square is to raise awareness of the city’s homeless problem.
Surely then the fact this footage has been seen by 37,504 people is a victory for the campaigners?
Mr Taylor isn’t so sure, stating that ‘nothing short of a death’ will get Manchester City Council to care or change their attitudes.
He said: “37,500 is an extraordinary number and I’ve never seen anything to do with the homeless camp get so much attention. But do I think it will make a difference? No.
“Manchester City Council do not seem to care. There has been an awful lot of press interest in this ever since Albert Square – national newspapers, local television stations – and it does not seem to make a difference.
“They don’t seem to be too bothered about it so far. I think something catastrophic would have to happen for Manchester City Council to have to change their attitudes.
“Nothing short of a death it seems to me would change their mind. You do understand that I am not wishing a death on anyone.
“But I think a death is probably the only thing that would help – a death of a homeless person due to cold or disease.”
The homeless camp have been evicted several times by the council since they started their protest near the Town Hall in April this year, moving on to St Peter’s Square, then Castlefield, then St Ann’s Square.
ALBERT SQUARE: Outside the town hall was where it all began for Homeless Camp Manchester back in April
The solicitor said this perseverance by the council to move on the homeless rather than fix the problems causing a rising level of homelessness in the city is indicative of distorted priorities.
“Manchester City Council are hell bent on dissolving this homeless problem – not by tackling the problem itself but by moving on the protesters,” he told MM.
“They prefer the homeless people to not be an eyesore. They do not want them to damage the revenue of having stall holders.
“I am sure the council would prefer it if the homeless people in the camp went their own ways and slept in individual doorways and slept on individual park benches so the problem is no longer seen.
“This is a plaster to cover a gaping wound. The residents of Manchester have a homeless problem in their city. Evicting them from St Ann’s Square just pushes them along to some other area.
“Homelessness is on the increase. There’s a reduction in the amount of accommodation. The cost of putting them in bed and breakfast or temporary hostel accommodation is through the roof. It is a perfect storm.
“It is about time the council solved the underlying problem.”
Mr Taylor explained that the homeless camp’s move to St Ann’s Square was particularly disagreeable to the council because the area is a source of such high income for them.
But he feels that instead of being motivated by money, the council should be taking the time to understand that these are vulnerable people in need of help.
He said: “These are homeless people. They are just joining forces for safety.
“It beggars belief that the local authorities are treating the most vulnerable people in society in the way they have done.
“They just don’t seem to listen or want to listen to the homeless people in Manchester and their problems.
“What they do care about is the revenue but any money they’re collecting, it is not their rent. They should be giving it to the people of Manchester.
“They are keen enough to take revenue from stall holders and yet move on the people it should be going to.”
The solicitor said it is not just the council but also the church who have abandoned the homeless.
“Where is the church in all this? What would Jesus do? He probably wouldn’t evict the homeless people. So why haven’t the church opened their doors?” Mr Taylor said.
“They were told they couldn’t set up their tents on church grounds because it’s a desecration of religious grounds.
“So even Jesus has turned his back on them… or his representatives have anyway!”
EYESORE: Mr Taylor thinks everyone has turned their back on the homeless for the sake of the city’s image and income
For Mr Taylor, who yesterday attended the city’s remembrance service of the Peterloo Massacre on the anniversary of the tragic event which took place in 1819, it seems we have not come very far in centuries.
He said: “As I was listening to Maxine Peake and all these other socialist celebrities I thought, ‘Well there is another protest going on not half a mile from the spot where we are commemorating and things are still not okay.’
“The Peterloo protest was about taxes and poverty but we seem to have learned nothing 200 years later.”
But he believes that not all hope is lost as he reckons the council’s injunction against future homeless camps will be very hard to enforce.
He said: “They have got to show that the –person they are accusing is a person protesting about Manchester City Council’s homeless policy and doing so whilst sitting in a tent or moveable structure.
“Short of that individual holding a placard saying they are doing exactly that, I don’t know how they are going to enforce it.”
Amidst rumours of another camp having already been set up on King Street, Mr Taylor is certain the homeless protesters will not give up on their cause and praised their resilience.
“Good on the homeless camp. They are resolute. They won’t let it lie,” he added.
Main image courtesy of Jim Fischer, with thanks.