A mum has told how she was “dragged down the stairs as naked as I was born” during an apparently brutal eviction over a historic debt to Bristol City Council.
Ruth, 53, was kicked out of her Easton home soon after 9am on 19 October, despite the efforts of neighbours and local activists, after bailiffs acting for the High Court came to the front and back doors.
This weekend she and her two children are in temporary accommodation in south Bristol – at a cost of thousands of pounds per month to the council.
“I was in my bed asleep, the children had just left for school and I felt the house shaking,” Ruth said. “I got up and looked at the window and saw these men forcing entry into the house, it was the front and back at the same time.
“They broke into the house, and started trashing it and throwing around my possessions, [while] I didn’t have any clothes on,” she added.
“They were manhandling me – they took me by my legs and dragged me down the stairs,” said Ruth, adding that she is disabled because of damage to her spinal cord. She showed fresh bruises on her right arm that she said had resulted from being violently pulled from her home.
Confusion over council’s role
Bailiffs had attempted to evict Ruth several times in late 2021 but were blocked by action from the community union ACORN, of which she is a member.
Ruth said the original debt that had led to the enforcement action had been £16,000, which relates to a benefit fraud case. She disputed the validity of the original conviction, which was carried out under the Proceeds of Crime Act, as well as the process via which she had now been evicted. At the time of writing, the Cable has not not been able to independently verify her claims.
In the wake of the attempted eviction last year, Bristol City Council, which since 2018 has been pursuing ‘ethical’ debt recovery strategies over council tax arrears, suggested it had stepped in to prevent further enforcement action taking place.
“This administration condemns the actions of the recovery agents and have put a hold on any further action while we seek to better understand the situation,” deputy mayor Craig Cheney said at the time.
But after this week’s eviction, a council spokesperson said the authority had not been informed in advance, and had had little or no power to influence proceedings since last year’s attempted evictions, because the debt related to a benefit fraud case that was being enforced solely by the courts.
A housing law expert confirmed to the Cable that if the enforcement was being pursued under the Proceeds of Crime Act it was “not the council’s debt” any longer – essentially meaning it could not effectively intervene.
Despite that assessment, Barry Parsons, a Green councillor for Easton who was present at the eviction, said the impression he had been given in late 2021 was that the situation was “in hand and proceedings had been halted”.
We have asked Bristol City Council to clarify the apparent contradiction between Cheney’s remarks and the authority’s ultimate lack of influence over the subsequent course of events, as well as what it expected to happen after its contact with the courts last year.
Taser threat allegations
Bailiffs from the National Eviction Team arrived on Wednesday morning, according to Ruth without giving the seven days’ prior notice dictated by law, and too quickly for ACORN members to prevent them completing the eviction. The National Eviction Team’s website boasts that the firm has “undertaken more evictions of demonstrators, protesters and travellers than anyone else in the country”.
Ruth said the company’s men, some of whom the Cable saw were masked, had been “assisted” by police officers, whom she and other witnesses alleged threatened to taser her.
“I got here about 9.15 and could see two bailiffs out front and a large group of neighbours,” said ACORN member Andy Watt. “They then came in through the back, we heard Ruth shouting from upstairs, there were bailiffs up there, police, restraining her and she was then threatened with a taser.
“We came round the back and saw her being kicked out of the house naked,” he added. “They had a guy here with a dog too – it’s absolutely disgusting.”
A van marked ‘Dog Unit’ was still parked on the street when we attended around an hour after the eviction had taken place.
‘Another eviction successfully completed’
An Avon and Somerset Police spokesperson told the Cable that police officers attended the scene to prevent “breach of the peace” and entered the property after being told someone was in possession of a knife.
“In order to prevent injury an individual was “red-dotted” with a Taser as officers encouraged them to put down the knife. This is recorded on officers’ body worn video. A woman was subsequently carried from the property by bailiffs,” the spokesperson added.
“The attending officers offered support to the householder at the time, such as help to contact council housing support, which was declined.
“Neighbourhood officers have since visited the individual to offer help with accessing support services and to discuss any concerns about police officers’ actions on the day. There has been no formal complaint about police officers’ actions and there have been no arrests.”
The Cable has contacted the National Eviction Team, asking the company to confirm witnesses’ accounts of how Ruth had been kicked out of her home and whether this constituted a reasonable use of force.
A spokesperson declined to comment, but a LinkedIn post from 19 October by Martyn Spiers, a land and property manager at High Court Enforcement Group Ltd / National Eviction Team, said: “Another demanding and difficult #eviction was successfully completed by our #enforcement team today.
“Previous attempts had been made by County Court bailiffs to evict the occupiers from a residential property, but due to the difficult circumstances and local support from protesters, Court bailiffs were forced to abort,” the post added.
“We were contacted by the client and full operational plan was developed by our commercial team, additional specialist agents were brought in from our National Eviction Team to ensure that today’s operation was a success, even though one of our agents was threatened with a knife and more than 30 #protesters turned up to stop the eviction.”
We have asked Spiers to confirm whether his post related to Ruth’s eviction.