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London: First squatter jailed under new law

A squatter in London has become the first person to be jailed under the government's new anti-squatting law.

Squatters london Enlarge
Squatters occupy a large empty house in Bedford Square on March 19, 2010 in London. Under the new law, these squatters could be arrested and, if convicted, sent to jail for up to six months. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

A 21-year-old man in London has become the first person to be jailed under Britain’s new anti-squatting legislation, the BBC reported.

The Guardian reported that Alex Haigh has been sentenced to 12 weeks behind bars after pleading guilty to “occupying a housing association flat without permission” in central London.

Police arrested Haigh on September 2 – a day after the new legislation came into force – for squatting in a flat in Cumberland Street, Pimlico, the BBC said.

Two other people were also arrested and later convicted of squatting in the same flat. They are awaiting sentence.

Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act makes it illegal for people to occupy a residential property without the owner's consent. In the past, owners had to obtain a court order to evict unwanted dwellers. 

The maximum penalty is six months' jail and fines of up to a 5,000 pounds ($8,000).

The London Evening Standard said Haigh left his home city of Plymouth, about 190 miles southwest of London, in July to look for work in the capital.

Haigh's father, Hugh, said the punishment was excessive. 

"They have made an example of him,” he told the Evening Standard.

“To put him in that prison environment, I don't understand it. If he broke the law, he should be dealt with, but it is like putting someone who has not paid their taxes into Dartmoor." 

More from GlobalPost: Are London’s squatters out of control?

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/united-kingdom/120927/london-squatter-law