We have recently been made aware of at least three incidents in which occupied buildings were attended by cops who threatened the occupants with arrest and charges of Aggravated Trespass unless they vacate the building.
In most squatting cases, like these three, squatters are not committing Aggravated Trespass. Cops accusing them of committing the offence is a tactic that is used against squatters to bully them out of their homes, so we need to be arguing more effectively why the Aggravated Trespass offence does NOT apply to us, and not get threatened out of our buildings. Seeing as bad things always come in threes we thought that it might be useful to take a look at the legislation.
When you’re arguing with the cops that you’re not committing aggravated trespass you might need to escalate and ask to speak to a senior officer if the Sergeant you’re speaking to isn’t being convinced.
If you or someone you know is arrested note down/remember as many details as possible about the incident such as what the cops said, how many cops where there and their numbers/what station they were from, and say no comment to all questions. Contact us from the station and call a trusted solicitor if you have their details on you or we will try and do so. If you are unable to contact us while being detained, do so as soon as you are released.
Now for the wordy bit…
Aggravated Trespass is an offence under s68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. There are four elements that need to be proved to convict someone.
a- that they trespass on land
b- do some distinct and overt act beyond the trespass itself
c- with the intention by the second act to intimidate, obstruct or disrupt
d- lawful activity which persons are engaging in or about to engage in
on that or adjoining land
So, estate agents and housing officers might argue that you are disrupting them from their lawfully activity of showing people around the building but the courts have decided that the offence of Aggravated Trespass cannot take place unless people engaged in a lawful activity are actually physically present at the time of the trespass, so this ruling should exclude the use of the law against people squatting empty buildings (DPP V Tilly 2002, see below for authorities on the other aspects of the offence).
It is a further offence under s69 for a trespasser to fail to leave as soon as practical after being given a direction to leave by a constable on the authority of the senior police officer present, if that officer reasonably believes the person to have committed, be committing or intends to commit the s68 offence. Returning within 3 months after being given a direction is also a crime. Both offences have a maximum penalty of 3 month imprisonment and/or a level 4 fine (£2500). This means you would normally be fined a few hundred pounds or get community service if you are unlucky or had a similar previous conviction(s).
And for those who are interested, here is the actual legislation:
68 Offence of aggravated trespass.
(1)A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect
(a)of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b)of obstructing that activity, or
(c)of disrupting that activity.
(2)Activity on any occasion on the part of a person or persons on land is ‘lawful’ for the purposes of this section if he or they may engage in the activity on the land on that occasion without committing an offence or trespassing on the land.
(3)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or both.
(5)In this section ‘land’ does not include:
(a)the highways and roads excluded from the application of section 61 by paragraph (b) of the definition of ‘land’ in subsection (9) of that section
69 Powers to remove persons committing or participating in aggravated trespass.
(1)If the senior police officer present at the scene reasonably believes
(a)that a person is committing, has committed or intends to commit the offence of aggravated trespass on land ; or
(b)that two or more persons are trespassing on land and are present there with the common purpose of intimidating persons so as to deter them from engaging in a lawful activity or of obstructing or disrupting a lawful activity, he may direct that person or (as the case may be) those persons (or any of them) to leave the land.
(2)A direction under subsection (1) above, if not communicated to the persons referred to in subsection (1) by the police officer giving the direction, may be communicated to them by any constable at the scene.
(3)If a person knowing that a direction under subsection (1) above has been given which applies to him:
(a)fails to leave the land as soon as practicable, or
(b)having left again enters the land as a trespasser within the period of three months beginning with the day on which the direction was given, he commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or both.
(4)In proceedings for an offence under subsection (3) it is a defence for the accused to show?
(a)that he was not trespassing on the land, or
(b)that he had a reasonable excuse for failing to leave the land as soon as practicable or, as the case may be, for again entering the land as a trespasser.
The relevant authorities for arguing that you’re not committing aggravated trespass are as follows…
DPP V Barnard 2000 (Need for second act as distinct from the trespass)
Ayliffe v DPP 2005 (What is lawful activity)
DPP V Tilly 2002 (Lawful activity must be by persons physically present)
Capon v DPP 1998 (You can be convicted of s69 even if innocent of s68)