Peterborough squatters demand an apology for councillor remarks

17:46 Monday 15th June 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: An update now on the Peterborough squatters, who last week moved to a third location in Priestgate. They claim to be holding an austerity protest, and today entered the Town Hall in the city, looking for an apology from the (Deputy) Leader of the Conservatives, who’s branded them ‘criminals’ during a recent interview on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Their (Deputy) party Leader of course is councillor Wayne Fitzgerald. His argument, if you break in to a building, you’re breaking the law. And Wayne joins me now. Hello Wayne.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Hi Chris How are you?
CHRIS MANN: Yes good. Yes thank you. Tell us what’s happened today.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Oh well just to clarify, what I said is I have no proof that any individual in the group that was occupying Aqua House actually physically broke in. What I mean to say is anybody who breaks into a building to gain entrance, it’s a criminal act in the law. That’s that. And I stand by that, and I think most people would recognise the fact is if you enter a building unlawfully you should be punished for it. And that is my view.
CHRIS MANN: So what happened earlier?

WAYNE FITZGERALD: So in the case of my interview on the Paul Stainton show on Friday, I was asked by councillor Murphy, so what would happen if people turned up at the Town Hall. Now take the Town Hall to be the global council premises, which includes Bayard Place, I said they would be directed to the appropriate housing team member. And they would be dealt with on an individual basis. Now in order to obviously gain more publicity for their cause, which nobody is quite clear what it is, because one minute it’s homelessness and the other minute it’s austerity and one thing and another, indeed a group of individuals turned up today at the Town Hall. I wasn’t present, but they were demanding to see me. When I did actually arrive I asked the Chief Executive. Very kindly she agreed to speak to them, in order to smooth things over ..
CHRIS MANN: That’s Gillian Beasley of course.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Gillian Beasley. And she did, bless her, she did, she did the right thing. She personally went down to see them and asked who was homeless, and escorted them to Bayard Place, where they would be interviewed by the homelessness team, and given accommodation while a longer term assessment would be made. That I believe has happened, which is exactly what I said would happen, and that would happen with anybody that turned up at the council. We have a statutory duty ..
CHRIS MANN: Under the Homeless Persons Act of course.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Indeed. Yes. And that’s what happened.
CHRIS MANN: So what’s the next step?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Well I believe some of the individuals are known to the Council’s officers, you know, and have been offered accommodation before, but it’s a complex matter, which, you know, most people sympathise with any individual that’s got issues, whether they be medical or mental health problems, or indeed just fallen on hard times. So you know the officers within that team are trained to deal with these people specifically. And you know but we can’t force them to take the accommodation that is offered. And I believe that a number of individuals, in fact only two, when asked to step forward as those being homeless, actually came forward. A number of others may indeed be homeless, and they will all be dealt with accordingly. And this council have a very good record in terms of work with the homeless and rough sleepers in the city, which there are very few compared with other authorities. And we will continue. The officers do a great deal of good work, and we’ll continue that good work. to try and improve the lives of those less fortunate.
CHRIS MANN: Hearing this evening that they may have moved on again, and another building might have been occupier. What do you know?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: I believe there are some rumours just circulating on social media, but you know that is not the way to get yourself out of a hole personally. I had one of the people ring me last night to see if I would be available, and I did ask some pertinent questions I thought. I asked whether they were working. No. I asked whether they had a home. No. And I asked them what they were doing about that, and what help they were doing. And the answer was I believe in helping others first, which I thought was a bit of an odd thing to say. It’s a bit like the oxygen mask in the plane. The instructions are put your own on first before you help anybody else, otherwise you’re helping nobody. So it would be a better place for somebody to be, you know, happy in their life, secure, working, and indeed housed. And then help in a volunteering capacity others that perhaps need that help.
CHRIS MANN: But people are entitled to their opinions, and they’re also entitled to help when they need it.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Yes indeed, and I think you’ll be better placed to give that help if you’re in a strong position yourself, which was the point Chris.
CHRIS MANN: And that apology that was asked for, have you given it?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: I don’t need to give an apology.
CHRIS MANN: No I didn’t say you did. I just said are you considering that, or have you given it?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: No no. I believe that people who break and enter buildings, if they’re found out to be the culprit and have broke in, should be punished with the law, and they would be criminals if that was the case.
CHRIS MANN: Is this over now?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: I don’t think it is. No. I think that the people behind this, whether some of them may have very worthy needs and should be helped as much as we can, but I don’t think it’s any good those people should trot around to one squat after another. I don’t think they’re doing themselves any favours. They should get the help they need from the authorities, and get themselves into a stable environment. And the Council is here to support those people who want that help.
CHRIS MANN: Wayne, thank you for joining us with that update. Thank you. Wayne Fitzgerald there, councillor and of course Deputy Leader of the Peterborough Conservatives.