Bedford Business Watch

Published on 18 August 2016

A meeting of the town centre Business Watch heard police and fire services, a property lawyer and the council talk about the challenges which face landlords who find squatters in their commercial properties.

While the law had been altered to allow people to be removed more easily from domestic properties, it remains unchanged for commercial property which means that once people are “in” they can claim it is their home and they have “squatters’ rights”.

This can lead to prolonged and expensive legal proceedings. For early advice talk to Emma Watson at HCB in Lurke Street, Bedford

The police can only assist if there is evidence of breaking and entering or damage by those who then take up residence inside. Landlords can help themselves, and their neighbours, by keeping properties secure and, if illegal entry is gained, taking photographs or film footage of broken windows etc as the chain of evidence has to be secure to prove that those living in the property caused the criminal damage.

Police Sgt Paul Ayling told a group which included town centre businesses: “In Bedford there is a group of ‘nominals’ who form the hard core of a group of squatters who move from place to place.”

He showed photographs of the extensive damage caused by “malicious” squatters including pulling out toilets, smashing holes in walls and worse.

Properties which have been the subject of squatters have included the old Dane Street post office, the first floor of a former club in Silver Street (which led to problems for JD Sports below), LA Fitness in Kimbolton Road where a modern gym was completely wrecked, an industrial unit where tyres were set alight and the former Cash Converters premises on the High Street and finally The Higgins Shed.

“The owners would tell you about the extent and thousands of pounds of damage caused and the trouble they had to go through to get people removed,” added Sgt Ayling.

Beds Fire explained that vacant properties had a higher likelihood of being set alight by rough sleepers, squatters or vandals and in turn this could affect adjoining buildings which may be in use as offices or flats.

Sgt Ayling added: “It is not that we as the police want only to enforce the law, we do work closely with various agencies such as the council and charities to support homeless people - but some of the squatters are not interested.”

BedfordBID which represents 500+ levy-paying businesses and helps 100s more in the town centre, promoted the Business Watch event. The organisation has previously pulled together a guide for help for the homeless which has been so popular with businesses and their customers that it has gone into re-print. 

BedfordBID Director Christina Rowe said: “We try to help by signposting businesses towards the organisations who will help and we have been involved in making critical introductions between landlords and the authorities. For many landlords squatters are a new problem and they need accurate and timely advice.”

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