Local authority and police decisions to seize the homes of family members of those charged in connection with the riots or convicted of terrorist offences punish whole families for one member’s wrongdoing.
Evicting rioters’ families
In the aftermath of the August riots, Wandsworth Council served an eviction notice on the mother and 8-year-old sister of 18-year-old Daniel Sartain-Clarke when he was charged with burglary and violent disorder in the riots. Many councils, including Greenwich, Barking and Dagenham, Manchester and Salford declared that they would evict rioters, but apart from Wandsworth, only Southwark Council is believed to have sent out letters warning of eviction to tenants with family members suspected of criminal conduct. Speaking of the eviction notice, Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said ‘There is no room on our estates for people who commit violent crimes, who show no consideration for their neighbours or harass, threaten, intimidate or cause disturbance to others.' But the Council has been heavily criticised for the decision. Neighbours protest that even if Daniel is guilty, which he disputes, his mother Maite de la Calva is a valuable member of the community, volunteering with a charity helping domestic violence survivors, whose eviction will weaken the neighbourhood, not make it stronger. A picket was held outside Wandsworth magistrates’ court on 6 September to protest the proposed eviction, and even the Daily Telegraph said the proposed eviction was ‘an act of political spite’.
Councils routinely bring possession claims against blameless tenants whose children, lodgers or visitors cause nuisance or annoyance to neighbours – but as housing lawyer Liz Davies observed, since the purpose of such provisions is to protect neighbours from anti-social behavior, the departure of the person causing the nuisance is enough to prevent the tenant’s eviction. Housing minister Grant Shapps is seeking to subvert this protective purpose by giving councils powers to evict the families of anyone involved in the riots, no matter how far from their home – turning eviction into a further, collective punishment of the family. And anyone evicted on the grounds that a family member had committed an offence would be deemed ‘intentionally homeless’ and so ineligible for emergency housing. Campaigners have pointed to the ideology of social housing as a rare and strictly rationed privilege of poverty, to be continually earned by good behaviour, which combined with blaming the parents, informs the evictions.
Forfeiting the family home
An even more extreme example of collective punishment is taking place in Longsight, Manchester, where, if the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have their way, seven members of the family of Munir Farooqi, including two young children, will soon be homeless. Farooqi was convicted in September on charges of soliciting murder, acts preparatory to terrorism and disseminating terrorist publications, after allegedly trying to recruit undercover agents to fight in Afghanistan and selling extremist literature from his Manchester market stall. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum tariff of nine years, and is appealing his conviction. But Greater Manchester Police and the CPS have applied to seize his Victorian family home, which is believed to be owned by his wife – although she, their children, including an 8-year-old, and the couple’s seven-month old grandchild live there.
The Terrorism Act 2006 contains a power to order forfeiture of property ‘used for the purpose of terrorism’. The power was inserted into the Act in 2009 – but this is the first time it has been used to try to forfeit a family home. As the Bill went through the Commons in 2008,Tory MP Douglas Hogg pressed for safeguards to ensure that forfeiture of a convicted terrorist’s assets did not lead to injustice for innocent third parties, and Dominic Grieve MP said the power had ‘the potential of becoming a draconian side sanction that may be out of all proportion to the actual offences being committed’. Grieve is now attorney-general, with responsibility for supervising prosecutions, but appears to have done nothing to stop this ‘draconian side sanction’ from being implemented. The CPS and assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police Dawn Copley justify the application by saying ‘that most of the terrorism acts took place at the family home.’ But there was never any suggestion of a bomb factory; at most, the suggestion is that associates of Munir Farooqi may have met there. While it is obviously fair, and necessary, to deprive a terrorist of the tools of his trade, or of the funding needed to launch attacks, campaigners ask what can be the purpose of confiscating a home whose owner is in prison for the foreseeable future, and which is home to seven innocent people.
The police and CPS are seeking to seize two further properties belonging to the family, which are let out to provide student accommodation, to pay legal costs associated with the trial and forfeiture proceedings. This would deprive the family not only of their home but also of their means of livelihood.
But the opposition against this attempt at collective punishment is gathering pace. Following a peaceful vigil outside Longsight police station on 18 October and coverage of the case in the Manchester Mule the campaign held a packed public meeting on 31 October and the ‘Save the Family Home’ campaign petition, which was handed to the CPS on 8 November, has attracted massive support, radiating outwards from local mosques, churches and workplaces to the point where over 10,000 people have signed locally, nationally and online. Farooqi’s daughter Zulaikha praised the ‘excellent response from the diverse community, not just the Muslim community’, while Nahella Ashraf of Manchester-based Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research (RAPAR) has also been stunned by the level of support. She pointed out what was at stake: ‘This is supposed to be a democratic country, do we really want to go down this route?’
The CPS decision on whether to proceed is due on 11 November, and if the forfeiture application does go ahead, the case will be heard in March 2012. The campaign will continue for as long as the forfeiture proceedings are in being, and members will continue to collect signatures on the Sign the Save the Family Home petition.
Sign the Save the Family Home petition