A senior Met Police officer has defended the force's actions in sending several officers in riot gear to remove a group of people living illegally at an east London property.

They escorted 29 squatters out of a residential building in Hardinge Street, Shadwell after the Met said previous attempts to speak with them failed. No one was reportedly arrested.

Believed to be owned by The Sisters of Mercy convent, the building was reportedly taken over by a group of housing activists called Autonomous Winter Shelter in November 2022.

The Met said it received a report a month later from the owner about the occupation. They subsequently also got complaints of anti-social behaviour linked to the property from local residents.

An investigation was carried out by police and, in April 2023, a letter was sent to the squatters requesting them to leave the building.

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Officers were also said to have attended the venue “numerous times”  - including as recently as this week - to speak to the group but a Met spokesperson said they were denied entry.

A video from yesterday's (June 1) eviction shared by MyLondon appeared to show fights breaking out between the police and the building’s occupants.

Claims of police heavy-handedness were made on social media and an image posted by Autonomous Winter Shelter said: “We can’t let them take people.”

The Evening Standard interviewed an activist who claimed to have been living inside for months. He said the place had more than 40 people, a lot of whom ran away when they saw the riot squad.

He added: “I am very angry. Others were terrified and ran away, most of the organisers are just trying to help rough sleepers.”

Andy Port, Supt for neighbourhoods in Central East, said while the police has sympathy for homeless people living in the premises, the squatters had been acting “outside the law”.

He added that, in addition to responding to the owner’s complaints, they were also acting on the concerns raised by neighbours.

He said: “We did not want it to come to the point where we have had to escort individuals from a premises, but attempts to engage with the group had proved unsuccessful.”

Because of what he called a lack of engagement from people inside, Supt Port said it was difficult to know how many people were present and the police had to prepare accordingly.

A spokesperson for the Met said one of the occupants fell ill when police were in attendance.

The person was given first aid at the scene by officers before the London Ambulance Service took him to hospital. He was reportedly since been discharged.

A review will be conducted of any interaction police had with the man before he became ill.

Supt Port acknowledged that the action “understandably” raised questions from those “unaware of the background and context” of the case.

He added: “As such we will continue to be open and transparent with the public in explaining the reasons behind our actions.”