Judge criticises Bristol City Council as Tent City homeless people celebrate victory in banning case
By Tristan_Cork | Friday August 26, 2016
Bristol City Council solicitor Shazia Daya’s signature on court papers
A senior judge has criticised Bristol City Council for attempting to effectively banish a group of homeless people from the entire city, after the group won a major victory in court to stop the ban.
Council chiefs backed down in their attempt to impose a court injunction on the so-called ‘Tent City’ group of around 10 homeless people who have been camping for months in a park in Easton, and agreed a deal with them.
The council had tried to evict the 10 from the park and pass an injunction which would have meant they would be committing a crime if they slept rough of camped on council-owner public spaces anywhere else in Bristol effectively banning them from the city.
The original injunction made it a crime for them to sleep rough anywhere in Bristol
But just minutes before the case at the Bristol Civil Courts, council legal chiefs backed down. Instead, the out-of-court deal they agreed with the homeless people was that they would be evicted from the Peel Street Park in Pennywell Road in 28 days, and that the injunction would only apply to that park, not the whole city, and only for six months.
Judge Roderick Denyer QC welcomed the climbdown, criticised the council and praised the homeless people, who included an injured ex-serviceman, for challenging it.
“The injunction as sought initially was far too wide, that was the view I had two weeks ago,” he told the court. “I take on board fully that the ex-serviceman, for instance, served his time in the armed forces, was badly injured and spent a long time in hospital.
“I’m pleased it’s been able to be resolved. There’s a limit to what I can do in this situation. I don’t have any magic powers to deal with Bristol’s homelessness crisis and I would like to thank all the homeless people and the supporters for coming today. It’s an emotional area but I am very, very grateful, and I am pleased that this injunction is now in a much, much more sensible form,” he added.
The group of people living in the park had been supported by Bristol Housing Action Movement (BHAM), and an online crowd-funding appeal raised enough money to hire Derek McConnell, from South West Law, to represent them in court.
He slammed the council too, for the way officers had treated the homeless people. “There are other issues not covered, including the extent to which the authorities advise people if they don’t have local connections that is quite wrong legally, and the sooner the authority get away from this gate-keeping mentality to people presenting themselves as homeless the better,” he told the court.
The ex-serviceman, who asked not to be named in reports, said he was hopeful now that a home could be found for him. “I’ve gone from being told to get out of the city entirely, to now being told I’m an urgent priority, which is a good thing,” he said.
“They tried to put me in one of the ‘crash pads’ for homeless, but they are a hell-hole. We have people coming from those crash pads to stay at the tent city for a bit of peace and quiet. I’ve felt a lot safer there, and I’m going to stay with the lads until I’m sorted we’ve got a good community down there,” he added.
Another Tent City resident, a Polish man called Hubert, said he was pleased the council backed down. “I’ve been in England 12 years and worked and paid taxes for ten years, but ended up homeless after I lost my documents and can no longer work legally. When I get the documents again, I’ll be back on my feet,” he said.
“I’m really glad that the council aren’t doing this. I was feeling that they were going to force me out of the city, so I’m happy. I’m glad a lot of help and support from the local community, and from Richard and that can influence a judge and the council,” he added.
“It’s a definite victory,” said BHAM’s Richard Lloyd. “The residents of Tent City were going to be faced with a real problem in that they were going to have nowhere to live and nowhere to even be homeless in Bristol.
“It would’ve added a huge problem but now they can at least carry on trying to make a life for themselves here in Bristol. The judge said the original injunction was far too wide, and several times that a court can’t pass an injunction that it knows cannot be enforced. No one wants to jail homeless people.
“An injunction just for the park itself and just for six months is reasonable. The council lacks the resources to meet the need out there, but there needs to be a better dialogue between housing officers and the homeless people, and the likes of BHAM and Acorn Bristol on what homeless people’s rights are and what support they can get,” he added.
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, said the council ‘always tries to avoid’ taking court action against homeless people. “We always try to avoid taking this sort of action and we have spent a great deal of time engaging with the people in Peel Street Park since we first made contact with the camp back in April,” he said.
“However, we do not permit camping or sleeping rough in tents within our parks and open spaces, as we have to protect these areas and make sure they are available to everyone. The council and its partners understand that sometimes tents or temporary shelters are erected by vulnerable people in need of help and support. Those camped on the land have all been offered the support of St Mungo’s Outreach Team which is commissioned by the Local Authority to provide support to people sleeping rough.
“St Mungo’s visited the camp more than 18 times and spoke to 15 different people. In addition the council’s Streetwise team, which deals with anti-social behaviour issues, has visited the camp five times.
“At least three members of the camp have been supported into accommodation, with one of them also finding employment. A number of people were found to have connections with other areas and they were offered help with travel to that area and information on how to access further support once there. This offer was not always taken up, with some people choosing to remain in the camp. Those with a local connection to Bristol or no local connection to any local authority area, were offered a bed in a night shelter. An action plan was also drawn up for each person.
“The council works closely with its partners to ensure that those that are homeless are supported to access help and accommodation in the city. This support is ongoing and we will continue to engage with the people still left at the camp.
“The Rough Sleeping Partnership and other agencies are working to address the issue of homelessness in the city, as we believe that no one should be forced to sleep rough in Bristol. A number of extra bed spaces have been made available thanks to the partnership, with another two guardianship properties set to open in the coming weeks. We will continue to look at how we can all work together to support people and help them off the street as quickly as possible, as this remains one of our key priorities,” he added.
Victory for Tent City homeless as judge slams council
Tent City triumph
Bristol 24/7 – Tilly Haines, August 26, 2016
The residents of the so-called ‘Tent City’ in Easton have been given a reprieve as a judge criticised the city council for effectively attempting to expel the group of homeless people to outside the city borders.
The group were praised by the judge at Bristol Civic Courts for standing up for themselves with the council backing down at the last minute from threatening to evict them from their encampment in Peel Street Park.
Previously, the council had issued the residents with an injunction forbidding the defendants from rough sleeping, camping or the parking of any caravan or vehicle within the park off Pennywell Road, or in any other public open space within Bristol.
Around £1,500 was raised to help with their legal fees so that those living in the park could contest the case, which only lasted around 15 minutes on Friday morning, with some 10 protesters outside the courts.
An out-of-court negotiation was reached between a council representative and the defendants’ lawyer Derek McConnell which gives the residents of the park 28 days to be able to find somewhere else to live and now only applies to Peel Street Park.
Judge Roderick Denyer QC agreed that the injunction was now “in a much more sensible form” and recognised the need for Bristol to help the homeless.
Judge Denyer told the court: “There’s a limit to what I can do in this situation. I don’t have any magical powers to deal with Bristol’s homelessness crisis and I would like to thank all of the homeless people and the supporters for coming today. It’s an emotional area but I am very very grateful.”
The defendants and their supporters who attended the hearing were all pleased with the result.
Richard Lloyd from the Bristol Housing Action Movement said: “We’re very very happy. The injunction the council originally applied for was draconian and unhelpful and there was no way that was going to get through court, whereas the revised injunction they just conceded a lot down to a level that is really quite reasonable.”
An ex-serviceman and resident of Tent City who asked to remain anonymous told Bristol24/7 that he was badly injured and spent a lot of time in hospital.
Another resident, a Polish man who gave his name only as Hubert, said that he has lived in Bristol for 12 years but added that he lost all forms of ID and can no longer work legally.
The residents now have 28 days to leave Peel Street Park and move elsewhere, whether this be to another spot in their tents or into accommodation provided by a housing association.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said that the city council tries to avoid taking court action against homeless people and has spent “a great deal of time” engaging with the people in Peel Street Park since first making contact with the camp in April.
“However, we do not permit camping or sleeping rough in tents within our parks and open spaces, as we have to protect these areas and make sure they are available to everyone,” Rees said.
“The council and its partners understand that sometimes tents or temporary shelters are erected by vulnerable people in need of help and support.
“Those camped on the land have all been offered the support of St Mungo’s Outreach Team which is commissioned by the local authority to provide support to people sleeping rough.”