In April 2014, Clarke Willmott were instructed by L&Q to issue possessiorn proceedings against trespassers occupying a development site known as Cat Hill, in protest at the proposed re-development of the land into residential units.
L&Q had purchased the land in 2011 from the former Middlesex University and had been granted planning permission for its re-development scheme by Enfield Council.
The claim was issued against Persons Unknown, but at the first hearing on 15 May 2014, numerous individuals wishing to oppose the claim were added as Defendants and were given permission to file and serve defences.
The trespassers raised three challenges to the possession proceedings. These were as follows:
- Article 8 of the Human Rights Act;
- Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and
- An assertion L&Q had no legal right to possession because the land was “bequeathed to the poor children in the community for their education in perpetuity”. This was based primarily on an interpretation of an Indenture dated 2 July 1891 and a second Indenture dated 16 December 1912.
All three of the challenges raised were considered by District Judge Stone at a summary hearing on 6 August 2014. The trespassers’ occupation of the land had attracted a substantial amount of local attention, and the Barnet County Court was overwhelmed with supporters of the occupation, environmentalists and local residents.
After some lengthy submissions made by the trespassers, followed by bouts of applause and renditions of “Power to the People” by local residents, the Judge decided to reserve judgment on the Claim and hand down a written judgement.
On 15 August 2014, District Judge Stone delivered his eagerly awaited judgment, in which he found in favour of L&Q and made an order for possession within seven days of the service of the order on the trespassers.
The Judge’s primary findings were as follows:
- On the Article 8 defence, the trespassers had failed to satisfy the Court the land in occupation was their “home”, as they had failed to demonstrate to the Court their occupation had “continuous and sufficient links” to the land. It was held the trespassers had only been in occupation of the land since 14 April 2014 and the occupation was merely in protest to L&Q’s redevelopment.
- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child did not apply in these circumstances. None of the trespassers were children and no evidence had been adduced to show children were in any way involved.
- On the assertion L&Q had no right to possession, the Judge referred to the Land Registry title, which conclusively showed L&Q as the legal freehold owner. The trespassers had failed to provide evidence that the alleged 1891 covenant had comprised L&Q’s proprietary interest.
In conclusion, the Judge made the following statement:
“I have no doubt [the trespassers] are public spirited and determined campaigners… however, as I have already observed, this case is not about the use of the site but about the right to possession of it.”
Following a successful eviction carried out by the High Court Enforcement officers, and with the assistance of the Metropolitan police, the land was duly handed back to L&Q on 28 August 2014.
The case demonstrates the benefit of swift and decisive action when squatters take up occupation on development land. Our advice to L&Q, and action taken on their behalf, ensured that possession was delivered up as quickly as possible and, crucially, L&Q was able to continue with construction work whilst the site remained squatted (albeit not necessarily in the order that the work was originally programmed) so that delays to the final completion of the development were minimised.
For further information, please contact Lindsay Felstead.