A Pan African Human Rights Organisation challenging the misrepresentation of African people, culture and history in the British media.
Tue 2 August 2011
Brent Council forcibly breaks into elders community centre
Brent Council forcibly removes the padlock of the Mission Dine Club (MDC) charity's centre as it breaks into the community centre for the elderly and disabled on Monday 1st August.
The councils break in and attempted removal of private property took place following a long battle it had with MDC and hundreds of community supporters seeking to save the valued community centre from being demolished in order to expand Newfield Primary School. The venue which was used by the elderly and local residents hosted a plethora of community development events engaged in training, youth projects and volunteering opportunities. Built with Lottery funds to fulfill a public service, the centre which cost over a hundred thousand pounds to build had only been standing for seven years. During this time the council seeking commercial gain from a non-profit charitable enterprise sought an unsustainable level of rent for the lease.
On Monday 1st August 2011, officers of Brent Council proceeded to enter the MDC Centre and without consent of the charity began removing property and loading it onto a vehicle. MDC representatives were not present when Council agents began what they describe as a “peaceable possession action”, neither were they aware the action was about to take place, but a witness who was distressed by the activity took actions to ensure the police were called by an MDC officer.
Following the arrival and intervention of the Police, the council representative involved in the contested operation was convinced to refrain from removing the rest of the charities’ property in order to stop causing further distress and prevent an imminent breach of peace.
Peaceable re-entry is an aggressive mechanism
The Mission Dine Club (MDC) was founded in 1986 by Dame Betty Asafu-Adjaye in response to the needs of the elderly and disabled in the community. Its community Centre based at Fry Road, Harlesden has been serving the local community for about seven years.
In a letter to Ligali, Gary Howell, a council representative and senior member of its commercial litigation team has responded denying it has acted inappropriately and stating;
“That lease [to the premises] had been breached by the named tenants, who after extensive correspondence and ample opportunity, failed to remedy the said breaches. The breaches of the lease were serious. As a consequence, the Council, acting in its capacity as landlord, took peaceable possession of the premises in accordance with clause 5.1 of the lease. The lease has now been terminated. The Council was slow to exercise its right to possession and terminate the lease and the action was carried out as a last resort.
The Council is not prepared to go into detail as to the nature or extent of the breaches here; suffice it to say that the named tenants were fully aware of the Council’s position on the breaches. The Council has entered into a great deal of correspondence with the trustees of the charity and their representatives over the past months.”
The council is referring to unpaid rent owed by the charity. The Clause 5.1 which they refer to states the landlord may re-enter the premises if the whole or part of the rent remains unpaid for twenty-one days. The process of “Peaceable re-entry” is an aggressive mechanism often used by landlords to forcibly bring a lease to an end (Forfeiture). It is effected by the landlord entering the premises (when empty), changing the locks and posting a notice of re-entry on the premises whilst notifying the tenant and their legal representatives of the situation.
Any re-entry must be peaceable otherwise it will be unlawful and likely to constitute a criminal offence under section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. This can occur when the premises are not empty at the time of re-entry or through the process the landlord is responsible for causing a disproportionate level of distress. Simply securing the property is not re-entry, also any items that have been removed away from the premises and taken to a place of impounding must be identified.
Commenting on the issue community activist Toyin Agbetu said;
“It is difficult not to be disgusted by the amoral character of any authority that would ruthlessly authorise the premature use of so called ‘peaceble’ force to violently seize a community centre for commercial reasons from some of the most vulnerable people in society. The lease was due to expire in four weeks so why did Brent Council act in this crass manner? It is our duty to protect the elders in our community, not cause them unnecessary and wholly unavoidable distress.”
Is the council right to seize and demolish an elders community centre that serves the entire community and was only built seven years ago?
It is our duty to protect the elders in our community, not cause them unnecessary and wholly unavoidable distress
Toyin Agbetu, The Ligali Organisation
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If there are any community lawyers with experience of criminal law willing to represent or give advice to the Mission Dine Club please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Ligali who will forward any information or offers of help to the relevant party.