Posted on October 16, 2009

Squatters Move in Round the Corner From Lady Thatcher

Duncan Gardham, London Telegraph, September 29, 2009

The squatters say they gained access to the three-storey Georgian house on Chester Square, Belgravia in Central London legally by opening an unlocked window with a broken payne in it.

There are now seven occupants, in the newly decorated house which has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. They come from countries including Nepal, Romania and the US.

One of them, Jake Tag, 29, is a former Green Jacket from Durban, South Africa, who now works as a building labourer. He served in the Army for six and a half years and did tours of Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving the forces three years ago.

Since then he has been journeying around the country working as a labourer and steel erector on building sites and often living in squats.

Mr Tag, who now has an en-suite bathroom and says he plans to borrow some furniture from friends, said he had walked down the street to Lady Thatcher’s home, which is patrolled by armed police officers, to deliver a note inviting her around for tea.

“I don’t have much to say to her, it just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “We knew it was really close to Margaret Thatcher’s house. It’s hard to believe we’ve ended up living so near someone like that.

“This is the richest place to live in London. Living here is a dream come true. We’re going to keep the place clean and tidy and we won’t do any damage. It’s all perfectly legal and we just want to set up a nice home in an abandoned house.

“We should be allowed to use these houses. Lots of them are empty and often the owners live abroad. I would love to have a decent pay-off from the army and my own house but that’s not the way it works.”

The squatters say the property is owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate. A notice on the door now reads: “We live in this property. It is our home and we intend to stay here.”

Chester Square has been home to celebrities such as Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, and houses there sell for up to £20m.

Steven, 54, who declined to give his last name, has been squatting or sleeping rough for eight years.

As he lay on a sleeping bag on the floor of his room, listening to the Prime Minister’s speech at the Labour Party Conference on the radio, he said: “You’ve got a lot of people on the streets, its coming up to winter and some of them will die. A good building like this should be available to put them up.”

A team of scouts has been patrolling areas of central London to identify empty houses and then keeping an eye on them for three months before moving in.

They say they have a number in reserve and moved into the Chester Square residence after diplomatic protection officers persuaded them to move out of an 58-room property owned by the Sudanese government in Knightsbridge.

Next they plan to target the Government-run Crown estate where they say 13 per cent of the £43bn property empire is empty.

Mark Guard, 44, who has been producing a documentary about the squatters, said: “Margaret Thatcher has a 24-hour diplomatic security detail and nobody has noticed these squatters moving in so close to her house.

“These squatters come from all over the world and are here because they can’t afford rent. They target homes in Belgravia, Kensington and Chelsea because rich people own them and just sit on a beach in another country.

“I’m sure residents including Margaret Thatcher won’t be entirely happy with their new neighbours but these people are not going to do any damage, will keep the place tidy and are there entirely legally.

“If they get evicted from this house by the owners, they have other addresses in mind. There are lots of empty properties in this area.”