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London squatter first to be jailed under new law

media captionSquatter jailed under new law

A 21-year-old man squatting in a London property has become the first person to be jailed under a new law.

Alex Haigh, who arrived from Plymouth two months ago, was arrested by police at a flat in Pimlico on 2 September.

Haigh pleaded guilty to squatting in a residential property and was jailed for 12 weeks by Westminster Magistrates' Court.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the new law is enabling "quick and decisive action to protect homeowners".

Squatting was previously treated as a civil matter. The maximum penalty is now six months in jail, a £5,000 fine, or both.

'Quick action'

Haigh and two other people, Anthony Ismond and Michelle Blake had been squatting at the housing association property in Cumberland Street.

They were charged and later pleaded guilty to squatting.

image captionAlex Haigh had come to London two months ago looking for work

Ismond was fined £100 for squatting and recalled to prison on breach of licence while Blake will be sentenced at a later date.

But some neighbours where the three were squatting told BBC London of their surprise at Haigh's sentence.

Neighbour Nadia Lee said: "They were very quiet - I think just living in a room wanting a roof over their head.

"I don't think they were doing any real harm. Obviously they (the owners) had a right to get them out but not put them in prison."

An MoJ spokesperson said: "For too long squatters have been playing the justice system and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs.

"It is extremely encouraging that the new criminal offence of squatting in a residential building, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, is enabling the police and other agencies to take quick and decisive action to protect homeowners against squatting."

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