London squatters live like lords in abandoned mansions
A stone's throw from the Dorchester Hotel and an Aston Martin car dealership, squatters have taken over two mansions on one of London's most prestigious streets.Park Lane, which runs up the side of the city's Hyde Park, is a favourite address for celebrities and businesspeople, but the newest occupants of numbers 94 and 95 are cut from a slightly different cloth.
"Stick," one of the squatters, told AFP that he stumbled upon his new seven-storey residence -- complete with penthouse on top -- in November while searching for a place to live with a group of fellow artists.
"The place was empty, man," he said, speaking through the letterbox of number 95 because journalists are refused entry. "The door was open. I just opened it."
Squatting, or occupying an abandoned building, is only illegal in England if it involves breaking and entering or damage to goods.
According to "Stick," the two multi-million pound (euro, dollar) buildings, which boast elaborate wrought iron balconies and airy bow windows, had been empty for around two years because of renovation works.
He said there was no central heating and no shower inside, adding that the squatters ask each new resident to bring their own fuel by way of admission ticket.
Another squatter, Andreas, said that conditions were "pretty good, but I've known much better places."
The tall Swede, who sported an untidy black beard with a blonde streak, has lived in London for two years and never paid rent. "I always find a place," he said.
He has been at Park Lane for eight months -- his longest squat so far -- but will not stay for much longer.
"We knew it wouldn't last long here," he said, adding that he hopes to find a new squat in east London, a poorer area "where the lawyers are not so swift to evict us."
As if to confirm what he said, two bailiffs arrived to post a document on the door warning that the owners will try and evict the squatters at a court hearing on Wednesday, January 28.
This prompted two of the residents inside the building to race to a balcony and tip water on the bailiffs, who retreat, chastened, to the doorway.
One of the squatters raised both fists in the air in a victory salute, tossing his dreadlocked hair in celebration.
The owner of the freehold on the property is Grosvenor, the agent which handles land belonging to the Duke of Westminster, Britain's richest man.
"We have contacted the leaseholder's solicitors asking them to resolve this problem without delay," a spokesman said.
Neighbours of the squatters did not want to comment but Andreas insisted relations were good between them.
"The neighbours are really friendly. I've got a big fridge from one of them," he said.
Another squatter, 20-year-old art student Daniel Moreira, said that all those living in the house were "nice people."
"There are no junkies or crack-heads in there," he added.
Asked about those who see squatters as "scroungers," he said he could understand their point of view.
"I think that's fair. We are invading a house," he said.
AFP/ Loic Vennin
Top photo credit: Two squatters are pictured on the roof of one of the two estimated £15m mansions that have been taken over, on Park Lane, in London, on January 23, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry