Homelessness and public spaces

Met Police issues apology and admits officers acted unlawfully after homeless people’s tents removed and destroyed

Posted on 17 Jan 2024

  • Tents belonging to people sleeping outside a London hospital were cleared from the area in November after the Met issued a dispersal order, with some tents thrown into bin lorries
  • Liberty took legal action on behalf of Anthony Sinclair, whose tent was removed and his belongings disposed of while he was in police custody
  • Sinclair was supported by grassroots organisation Streets Kitchen
  • Now the Met has admitted that the dispersal order, and Sinclair’s arrest, were unlawful

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has issued an apology after officers evicted several people who had been living in tents near a London hospital, destroying their tents and belongings.

Following action by Anthony Sinclair, one of those evicted, supported by grassroots organisation Streets Kitchen and Liberty, the Met have now accepted officers acted unlawfully when they authorised a dispersal order and issued directions requiring people living in the tents to leave the area.

The eviction sparked outrage in November when video footage showed tents being thrown into waste disposal trucks, after officers issued those living in the area with directions banning them from the vicinity.

Liberty’s client Anthony Sinclair was arrested when he refused to leave, and while he was held in custody, his belongings, including his tent, mattress and toiletries, were disposed of by the council.

He threatened legal action against the police, on the grounds that dispersal orders should not prevent people from accessing the place where they live – in this case, the tent in which he had been living for several months.

Liberty said that the actions of the police breached Sinclair’s human rights, and put him and numerous other homeless people, at risk of harm.

Now, after a legal challenge, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has apologised.

In a letter, the Met accept that it was not lawful for officers to authorise a dispersal order or to issue directions to Sinclair, particularly because he had been living in that place for an extended period.

They also accept that in doing so, officers unlawfully interfered with Sinclair’s right to respect for his private and family life, under the Human Rights Act.

Anthony Sinclair said: 

“The treatment that I and others received at the hands of police officers was inhumane.

“I was arrested for refusing to leave the place where I had been living for eight months, and while I was held for six hours in custody, my tent and other belongings were taken away and destroyed.

“I am glad to see this admission from the police that this was wrong, and I hope that no-one in the future receives the treatment that I did.”

Elodie Berland, Streets Kitchen co-ordinator, said: 

“We were shocked though not surprised to witness the Metropolitan Police and Camden Council’s cruel actions attacking those at perhaps the lowest points of their lives experiencing homelessness.

“This was not an isolated incident where powers were used unlawfully to disperse people and destroy their possessions. This is sadly something we witness regularly.

“The Met’s acknowledgment that they indeed acted unlawfully and their apology are certainly a step in the right direction and highlights the need to always be observant and resist such cruel acts whenever they occur anywhere. Being homeless is not a crime – the fact that it exists should be.”

Lana Adamou, a Lawyer at Liberty, said:

“We all have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, whatever our circumstances. But increasingly, people living on the streets are being subject to unfair and degrading treatment by police, putting them at risk of harm.

“This government is criminalising poverty and homelessness, and police are misusing powers they have been given such as dispersal orders as a short-term fix to remove people from an area, instead of providing support or dealing with the root causes of these issues.

“We’re glad to see the police admit that their officers should not have treated our client or the other people affected in this way and that our client’s rights were breached, and we welcome the Commissioner’s apology. This sends a clear message that dispersal orders should not be used against people living on the streets in this way.”

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