Managing the risks involved during an eviction
 
Evictions can be fraught with danger. And it is not just the problems caused by squatters with little or no intention of leaving quietly. The very fabric of the building, which has typically been vandalised by the unwanted houseguests, can often mean live electricity cables dangling from walls or close to lying water with the obvious hazard to an enforcement officer in the execution of his duties.

But on a recent eviction at a house in London I became aware of another potentially fatal hazard that we at Shergroup had not encountered before – asbestos. Not only do I, as HCEO, have to ensure the safety of my officers with the appropriate protective clothing and so forth, but I also have responsibility for the police and their safety. That means careful, precise and detailed planning, using our own expert teams and expert consultants (including the police) depending on the scene of the eviction.

During this same eviction I invited a [former policeman] to accompany us in an observational/fact finding role. He wanted to see how Shergroup went about its business. Whereas our focus has always been on the hazards confronting our officers from individuals, he saw similar dangers in the building infrastructure – the live cables being a case in point. Today it means that on every site eviction, we are accompanied by a qualified electrician to isolate the power supply before anyone else enters the building.

Multiple hazards

There are many more risks when you consider some of the complex evictions Shergroup has carried out of late. Once we attended a church where protesters had set up camp in cargo nets suspended from the ceiling. These had to be carefully manoeuvred on to scaffolding before the squatters could be lowered to ground level and escorted off the premises.

Whereas some take to the heights, others dig themselves in – quite literally – by building tunnels. This happened at Manchester Airport years ago and more recently on Ravens Ait, an island on the Thames near Kingston. In Manchester there was the real risk of protestors being suffocated, and we were obliged to pump fresh air to the tunnels while we negotiated their eviction. It took 10 days. Needless to say, the potential risks to the protester and the officer from our specialist team who had to take the oxygen down to him were immense.

During a high profile eviction last year, protesters built scaffolding and some d-locked themselves to it – an increasingly common practice and fraught with dangers. An onsite risk assessment had to be carried out and it was decided that a piece of wood should be inserted between the back of the lock and the protester’s neck. Once enough pressure was exerted the lock snapped.

But again these are the lengths we have to go to ensure the safety of an increasingly determined and stubborn group of hardened demonstrators.

 
 
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