Manchester council slammed for ‘disgraceful’ homeless camp failures
Manchester's Labour council was today slammed for a "disgraceful" failed attempt to prosecute homeless people camping in the city.
Members of the camp were accused by the council of breaching an injunction which bans them from sleeping in tents in protest against the city's homelessness policy.
If the council had been successful the rough sleepers could have faced up to two years in prison.
However, a court yesterday dismissed two applications by the council, with the judge accusing them of "serious failures to comply with the rules".
The Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, who has previously visited the camp said the council's actions were "disgraceful". She added:
"In the sixth-wealthiest country in the world, no one should fear being forced to sleep on the street. I am proud that the Green party passed a policy at our conference last weekend to make housing a human right. I would urge this council to spend taxpayers' money improving provision for homeless people, instead of on legal challenges against them.
Ben Taylor, of WTB solicitors, who represents three of the defendants said he was delighted by the court's decision but added that the "council's incompetence was breath-taking". Speaking after the hearing, he said:
"I have one question for the council: do they intend to issue a fresh application to commit my clients to prison? If yes, they should do it properly so that the legal arguments can be properly aired before a judge. If no, they should apply to the county court for the injunction order to be discharged immediately."
The situation risks embarrassing Labour at a time when it is attempting to portray itself as an anti-austerity movement.
"It is worrying that this application emanated from a Labour Council in the same week that Jeremy Corbyn has expressed grave concerns about homelessness nationally," he said.
"Does the leader of the Labour Party or indeed any of the local Labour MP’s know what this council has done? Do they support the application to commit people to prison albeit they have committed no criminal offence?"
Cllr Nigel Murphy, Manchester's executive member for neighbourhoods said the injunction remains in place.
"We're now working with our partners to develop a strategy around homelessness in the city, as we remain committed to addressing the needs of homeless people in the city," he said.
Labour MP for Manchester Central, Lucy Powell, said the council had a 'difficult balance to strike'.
"This has been a very difficult situation for a while.
"I have huge sympathy with those seeking to raise the important and growing issues around homelessness, not least how many more people are facing homelessness given welfare changes and cuts to services.
"The council has a duty to ensure that protests do not put public safety at risk and are carried out within the law. This is always a difficult balance to strike.
"Lessons should be learnt from this dispute and measures used should always be a matter of ongoing review."