I'm a former squatter who turned a Russian oligarchs mansion into a homeless shelter for a week in 2017, AMA!
I squatted in London for about 8 years and from 2015-2017 I was part of the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians. In 2017 we occupied a mansion in Belgravia belonging to the obscure oligarch Andrey Goncharenko and turned it into a homeless shelter for just over a week.
Given the recent attempted liberation of properties in both London and France I thought it'd be cool to share my own experiences of occupying an oligarchs mansion, squatting, and life in general so for the next few hours AMA!
Edit: It's getting fairly late and I've been answering questions for 4 hours, I could do with a break and some dinner. Feel free to continue asking questions for now and I'll come back sporadically throughout the rest of the evening and tomorrow and answer some more. Thanks for the questions everyone!
Because I think it's absolutely disgusting that places of such opulence like the places I've squatted are left empty whilst there's people just round the corner freezing to death in the middle of winter. I'm proud of the fact that for a week I gave as many people as I could the chance to have a decent meal and stay somewhere warm and comfortable for the night. I did what I did because I don't believe in sitting on my arse doing nothing about something I feel very strongly about and wanted to help as many people as I could whilst getting people talking about some of the real issues.
You’re a member of ANAL?
How does one enter this "ANAL"?
I may be seeking Admission to "ANAL."
Lots and lots of J-Lube
Precisely how much brainpower does it require to twist your thoughts into justifications for occupying someone's private property? Especially in a capitalistic society where people have no ceiling and can absolutely attain whatever it is they want, not even within reason.
If this capitalistic society is as wonderful as you make it out to be then why, for example, are staff in the social care sector in the UK being paid a pittance for hard but valuable and necessary work whilst the sector is in crisis, and the organisations behind that care are stashing away the profits in tax havens. And how is it acceptable that people sit there and let this happen after singing their praises during covid.
The idea that there's no ceiling and people can attain anything they like is farcical, maybe it's that way for a lucky few but the odds are overwhelmingly against anyone who isn't born in to money if you ask me.
My biggest questions is how’d you stay safe during the entire ordeal? Russian Oligarchs strike me as the type of people that would have all kinds of sketchy “security”
We quite literally entered through an open window and the police came pretty quickly. By this stage they knew us pretty well from our previous squats and knew the score, it's a civil matter and the owner would have to take us to court. The squat ended up in the news quite quickly because someone reckoned they saw Lauri Love there, so I guess that put the owner off trying anything dodgy. We did have to contend with a bunch of football hooligans though.
how is trespassing a civil matter?
if someone breaks into my home -- the cops won't help?
In England trespass (with certain exceptions) is treated as a dispute between two parties and dealt with in the civil courts, and isn't generally considered a criminal matter.
Very convenient that some "football hooligans" broke precisely one window with nobody around to film it and the only source in that article being the organisers of the squat.
Definitely couldn't have been the squatters causing damage or breaking it to gain entry, which would get them evicted quicker unless they blamed it on someone else.
The video came from a journalist from The Independent who happened to be in the squat at the time it all kicked off as we were doing an open day, and had you watched the video you'd see the windows getting put through. Do you seriously think a bunch of anarchist squatters would go to the effort of dressing up as football hooligans and start doing nazi salutes outside our own squat?
How would one go about occupying a mansion?
Check the windows, there's usually one left unlocked that you can just lift up
Did you get any kind of a criminal record for all that?
Only that time I got locked out of my squat after going to a rave, got caught by the police trying to break in to my own squat and got nicked with half a gram of ketamine and a tiny smear of hash oil on a rizla.
...got caught by the police trying to break in to my own squat
Pretty sure this is different if you don't actually own the property
and got nicked with half a gram of ketamine and a tiny smear of hash oil on a rizla.
Don't break more than one law at a time
I use the term squat in this particular context very loosely, it was initially squatted but we had an informal arrangement with the owner because we actually looked after the place. It's still there 9 years later.
It is actually possible to come to arrangements with property owners if you can show you look after the place, it works for them because it's free security and they're not liable for the business rates if the property isn't occupied by them
As a libertarian I think it seems weird that other libertarians would support squatting as it violates the right of ownership.
What's up with that?
ANAL as a group did some serious things, but as a group we were never meant, nor wanted to be taken seriously. For example, our King and/or Leader who was named in court papers was a pit bull called Zeus.
This might sound like a joke question, but I'm serious about it. Because if the X-illionaire wasn't spending their money on this, then they were just not spending money correctly.
So.. my question... Did you find any secret rooms? Books that acted as levers to open a false wall or staircase, or statue with a button on it, etc.
Not myself, but I know of some fellow squatters who found a hidden gay bondage dungeon in a squat once.
Weird to call it a gay dungeon. I think a lot of people ignorant of sex attribute a lot of things to "gay" when it's just because they dont know things. Unless the owner and designer call it a gay dungeon or there's a sign "boys only" or something, It's a weird claim.
I was assured it was pretty obvious from the pictures on the walls and other items that were found inside.
Did you pay the utility bill?
Our mate Robin Watts set up an account, no idea whether it actually got paid though.
Why was it a week, did the police invade afterwards?
How do you (the organisation) choose which house to occupy? What are the criteria?
Me and a few of our crew were just walking around Belgravia and Knightsbridge late one January night thinking about our next building when we just happened upon the one on Eaton Square. My sort of ex was the one who usually cracked the buildings, he climbed down to a basement window, lifted it and it opened, so we went in looked round and decided to take the place there and then. We hadn't specifically set out to take a building that night so it was all very spontaneous. The police came, they saw, and they fucked off and left us to it.
We didn't actually get evicted until just after a week later once it had been all over the news, the owner threw money at his solicitors to get it bumped up to the High Court and we were evicted by bailiffs early the following morning.
How often do you shower?
Most days, I'm no longer a squatter.
How did you decide where to squat? Did you specifically pick houses out for their opulence or was it just whatever you could find was unoccupied?
We'd just walk around the expensive parts of London at night and try our luck, it's actually hilarious how shockingly bad the security is on some of these places given the value of the property, it's like they don't even care.
Idk man, most people kinda assume their homes aren't going to be invaded. Just a thought?
None of the places we squatted were residential in the eyes of the law, residential squatting was made illegal in 2012 and we'd have been kicked out straight away if they were. All of the places were in central London and quite clearly used for commercial uses.
Was that the biggest / most expensive property you've squatted?
What’s your thoughts on the Connolly Barracks?
In case you don’t know and for people who wish to know more:
I think it's incredible what they've achieved there and there needs to be more places like Connolly Barracks. Hope they manage to get leccy and hot water sorted soon!
How did you go about getting into the mansion initially? Break down a door? Sneak through the window? What happen to force all the squatters and homeless out after a week?
They'd left a window unlocked and open in the basement, it was as simple as climbing down and lifting it up.
Nice! Figured it would be pretty easy to find one opening on a big mansion. What was your favorite part of being a part of ANAL?
Drawing lots of attention to causes I'm very passionate about in a way that's hard to ignore, whilst having fun with mates and meeting some cool new people in the process.
Do you like dino nuggets?
What in the name of Greek buggery is a dino nugget?
Are there any dangers squatting in property listed for sale?
They'll usually throw money at solicitors to evict quickly because the sale is generally dependent on the vendor being in possession of the property
Did you guys think about the acronym when you named the group?
As far as I'm aware it just sort of came about, our slogan was "Penetrating deep into the heart of London", although I still maintain that it should have been "Penetrating deep into the bowels of London"
I managed to get social housing in 2018, and I've since moved to Scotland. Squatting was hard and it had it's fun moments, but I felt it was time to move on. At the moment I'm trying to sort out my mental health and then eventually I'd like to get back into education. I'd also like to do something like addiction support or welfare rights because I have a bit of experience in those areas and enjoy helping others.
Governments worldwide are in the process of seizing Oligarchs' homes. What should be done with the properties?
They should be used immediately to house Ukrainian refugees, and in the long term they should be used for public good.
Did you piss everywhere but the toilet?
No, I sit down to piss.
The last time I hung out in London squats it was either regular punks I'd been drinking with or I think they were called WOMBLES which I loved - "white overall movement building libertarian effective struggle" (??)
I guess I need a question, how's things? What else ya get up to? See any good shows lately?
Things were incredibly difficult for me during the pandemic but I'm slowly sorting myself out and moving to Scotland was one of the best things I could have done for my mental health. I went back down to London to visit recently as my family live in East Anglia and spent a bit of time staying with some lovely punks in Bethnal Green. At the moment I'm just trying to sort out my mental health properly because the services in London were shockingly bad, I'd like to get into addiction support and/or welfare rights because those are two things I care deeply about and have some experience in, then eventually get back into education and finish university. I also helped out a little bit with the Baile Hoose occupation during COP26 but not as much as I would have liked as I wasn't doing too great at the time. As for shows, I recently saw Mark Thomas at the Edinburgh Picturehouse, it was 20 years since the Mark Thomas Comedy Product was on Channel 4 and he was telling us the story behind the show.
It's not really a masturbation story as such but I got caught by a tourist giving someone a blowjob at 11am at the peace camp on Parliament Square in 2011 after they thought it was cool to open up a random tent and scream hello inside.
What's the best kind of toilet paper? Some like the thin kind that you can bunch well because it doesn't chunk off on your butt but you have to use a lot of it and it's not comfortable, but others like that soft stuff that doesn't just fall apart when you bunch it, but is so soft that you can't fold it either or it'll... chunk off on your butt, but then also there isn't much on a roll. What brand is the best and please explain your answer.
Anything but newspaper, anyone who's squatted will know what I mean.
Where's the craziest place you've ever pooped?
I don't know about the craziest place I've pooped but the most expensive poop I had cost me 40 quid
Power to the people!
Eat the rich!
What can we all do to ensure safe housing for everyone?
We could make a good start by taking Buckingham Palace and turning it into council flats (social housing). Seriously though, housing should be a human right. The housing first approach in Finland is the way forward in my opinion.
When will we eat the rich?
On the wall of one of my squats someone once wrote:
Are you cold? Burn the rich!
Are you hungry? Eat the rich!
Are you horny? FUCK THE RICH!
I was squatting a bit round London in 2015-16ish. I ended up at Grow Heathrow for a stretch, I miss it! I also remember ANAL. What did you end up doing after?
Everyone kinda went their own way, I ended up in a long term squat in East London for a few years then ended up getting a council flat before moving to Scotland last year.
From one squatter to another, thank you for your service comrade. My question is, what has been giving you hope or keeping you positive these days?
Being rather amused by the response from those in power to the mansion in London getting squatted, and comrades in Scotland pushing the squatting laws to their limits during COP26.
Whereabouts in the world do you squat if you're cool with me asking?
Seeing as you keep getting flamed, all I'll say is-
1) keep up the praxis 2) Any further political action goals that you have?
Thanks! I'm retired as a squatter now, I'm slowly trying to sort my life out and get back into education. I somewhat came out of retirement last year and helped out a little with the Baile Hoose occupation in Glasgow during COP26 but couldn't help as much as I would have liked to as I was having a difficult time with my mental health.
I'm pretty legally minded and I help a lot of friends and their friends with some of their issues but I'd quite like to get in to welfare rights and/or addiction support in the future as those are two issues I feel very strongly about.
My wife and I met you all when we were visiting London! We were still only dating then, it was one of our first dates. It was great to meet ANAL and see what you all were up to. Did you remember us bringing orange juice, doughnuts, and coffee?
So many people brought us so much stuff so it's difficult to remember exact people as I'm sure you'll understand, but your orange juice, doughnuts and coffee would have been much appreciated. And congratulations on getting hitched!
Totally understandable, I'm glad you had so much support. The day we first saw you all, the Met had just busted a drug house literally down the street, but had no interest in the squat. (Though they were quite aware of it.) It was clear that unless they had orders from on high they had no problem with sticking it to the absentee "owner" and weren't going to act.
(And, thanks! Still going strong.)
As a previous and soon to be again squatter myself, how do you feel about high profile cases like this( not that I'm condemning them) Shining light onto the squatting community and potentially causing the closing of the loopholes for squatting like when residential got closed off to us?
I think people need to know about the sheer scale of shady money in London amongst other places and I feel actions like the ones I've done in the past, and with what's been happening recently in London and France go a long way in getting people talking about the issue.
There's been talk for years about trying to ban squatting but I don't see it happening any time in the near future tbh. Hope you find a good squat!
Yea that's fair, like I said I really wasn't criticising your actions was just curious, and yea but i was also squatting back before the change and thought the same with regards to residential, same with pspos etc, the whole site/squat dynamic has been massivley changed in recent years, and not for the better.
I started squatting towards the end of legal residential squatting, god I miss those days! I've rather fond memories of a set of bedsits in Dalston that we squatted that still had the electric meters that took the old chunky 50p coins
Why do you sound like your proud? Squatters have made people lives miserable in general and it's a pretty disgusting practice.
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