Update: Bristol Vehicle Dwellers have since written a letter to the site owner, Wales and West Utilities to ask them to not evict the lockdown is lifted.
Protesters stopped an attempted eviction of vans from disused private land on Glenfrome Road in St Werburghs on Saturday (13 June).
Protesters and van dwellers climbed onto a JCB brought by the bailiffs for the purpose of clearing the vehicles from the site. After a struggle at the entrance gates that lasted most of the morning, access was blocked with a caravan, preventing vehicles from being towed away.
Police attended the scene to keep the peace between the 30 bailiffs and around 100 protesters. Four arrests were made during the attempted eviction, which lasted into the night.
One man living on the site told the Cable the eviction was illegal because no papers had been served.
Witnesses have accused the bailiffs, from Redland-based security and enforcement firm GRC Group, of assaulting van dwellers and behaving aggressively during the stand-off.
One of the protesters, Benoit, who was present during the attempted eviction, heard “some of the squatters shout for the police to get involved at one point, saying that bailiffs had assaulted someone inside [the gates],” but didn’t directly witness the incident.
“At least one of the bailiffs kept fronting up to me, trying to intimidate me whilst I was trying to see past the JCB onto the site.”
However, he added: “The general atmosphere, apart from maybe three or four short incidents, was very calm, with people playing guitar and chess, sat around chatting right in the road around the JCB most of the day.”
Evicting during a pandemic
The Glenfrome Road site has been disused for over a decade. It is owned by Wales & West Utilities, based in Newport. Since the end of May, the site has been occupied by more than 20 caravans and live-in vehicles.
Questions are being asked about the timing of this eviction, during the coronavirus pandemic. To protect renters, the statutory notice period for landlords to evict tenants has been increased from two weeks to three months, amounting to a ban on evictions.
But with no tenancy agreements for the van dwellers, they are not covered by this change in law. Bristol City Council’s coronavirus advice for van dwellers links to guidance – not legislation – which states that “unauthorised encampments should not be evicted” in order to minimise risk while the pandemic is still ongoing.
The bailiffs from GRC Group left just before midnight on Saturday. Labour councillor for Lockleaze, Estella Tincknell tweeted that she had spoken with Avon and Somerset Police and they had agreed there would be “no further attempt to evict for ten days”.
She added that the “confrontational” approach was “not constructive”.
In a statement, Wales & West Utilities estates surveyor Richard Williams said: “We are aware of a number of individuals trespassing on our land in the Glenfrome area of Bristol. The land is where we plan to build a new depot – essential to keep the gas flowing safely to heat and power local homes. This proposal is currently going through the planning process.
“All individuals currently trespassing have been instructed to leave the area. We will work alongside the appropriate authorities until this matter is resolved.”
Avon and Somerset Police released a statement saying that charges had been made for criminal damage, police obstruction and assault of an emergency worker, and that a 45-year-old man arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and assault has been released under investigation.
“The primary action was being taken by bailiffs who were carrying out enforcement action on behalf of a private landowner.”
“We were there to prevent a breach of the peace and deal with any criminal offences.”
At time of publishing, GRC Group had not yet replied to a request for comment.