John Steinbeck’s wonderful novel was very much brought to to mind by the story I’m about to relate.
First of all I’ve give the link http://freeadslondon.com/news/london-news/16994-london-squatter-first-to-be-jailed
I must confess this worries me immensely. It’s not so much the criminalisation of squatting itself; on balance that’s probably correct. It’s the application of the law in this particular case that seems wholly and utterly wrong.
Alex Haigh’s story as we know it has one big missing link. We know that he came to London from Plymouth (or Portsmouth according to some sources) to work as an apprentice bricklayer. We know that he was eventually arrested for squatting. We don’t know exactly what the circumstances were that led to him moving from situation to the other.
One report I’ve found suggests that he did seek refuge in a homeless hostel but left after fearing from his safety after finding himself surrounded by drug users and other criminals. As he appears to have a family back in Plymouth once can only assume that either pride or naivety prevented him from seeking their help. More to the point, at least he will have somewhere to return to once his sentence is over.
There is an appalling mentality in this country (not entirely dissimilar to suggesting that all young black men are gang members) that seems to think that all squatters set out with malice aforethought to take over someone else’s property in order to avoid paying for their own. There are gangs of squatters who do this; that is why the law should be able to evict them swiftly and hold them accountable for any damage to property. Of course repeat offenders should be jailed. However there is nothing to suggest that Alex Haigh falls into this category, indeed all the evidence suggests the opposite. I’ve raised this issue on a forum I belong to and some of the comments have made me physically sick. That just makes me all the more determined to raise it.
Unless any new evidence comes to light to suggest otherwise then this sentence of twelve weeks jail is scandalously harsh. Alex Haigh should have been cautioned together with a strong suggestion that he should get in touch with his parents and make arrangements to return to Plymouth.
Some people are born homeless, some achieve homelessness and others have homelessness thrust upon them. At least Alex Haigh has a home to return to, many others won’t. Will it now be the case that those exiled from society due to mental illness and thrown from their homes due to homosexuality (to give to just two examples) have to serve prison sentences due to the `crime` of seeking shelter? Maybe the government considers it best that these people just freeze to death on the streets and cease to be a burden on society (after all, a politician ridiculously revered in some quarters once claimed that there was no such thing as society).
I’m trying to find out more about Alex Haigh’s story (maybe as an apprentice bricklayer wouldn’t appreciate a poncy gay man coming to his defence). However the evidence points to a young man trying to make his own way in the world (those people accusing him of sponging should note that he doesn’t seem to have sponged off his parents) and taking his sentance on the chin. To my mind, as he stares at his cell door tonight wondering where it all went wrong, he’s twice the man of the people who judged and condemned him.