By Natalie Bloomer
Homeless protesters who have been camped out in Manchester since April have been denied legal aid in their court battle with the city council.
The group have been staying in tents in various parts of the city to highlight the issue of homelessness but last week, the council won an injunction to ban the protesters from camping anywhere in the centre of Manchester.
The court's decision means anyone who erects a tent in the city centre without permission from the council could face up to two years in prison.
Both the protesters and their solicitor wish to appeal the ruling but without legal aid it will be virtually impossible.
The day before the court hearing the group was refused public funding on the grounds that the situation was not within the scope of the new 2013 legal aid restrictions.
Ben Taylor of WTB Solicitors, who is representing the protesters, said it was "an appalling and baffling decision". He added:
"The government’s decision to restrict legal aid means that the most vulnerable people in society are deprived the opportunity to challenge the court’s decision. The Legal Aid Agency and the Ministry of Justice should be ashamed of themselves."
Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, who previously visited the protesters, also expressed concern about the treatment of the homeless group. She commented:
"I am very disappointed by this ruling, which demonstrates that Manchester City Council is simply trying to move the pressing problem of homelessness out of sight, rather than dealing with the clear need for appropriate accommodation and support services that I saw first-hand when I visited the camp."
Cllr Nigel Murphy, executive member for neighbourhoods for Manchester city council, said the exclusion order is designed to prevent the recurrence of camps and not targeted at individual rough sleepers.
"The court found in our favour after listening to the evidence we presented about the amount of disruption these camps have caused to residents and businesses, as well as anti-social behaviour," he said.
He added the council will now be working with the police and court bailiffs to regain possession of the site but that its homeless team will also be visiting the camp to offer support to anyone requiring it.