News Walthamstow

Walthamstow Empire cinema squatters evicted by council

The squatters were removed this morning as the council says it has regained full possession of the building

By Marco Marcelline

Two police vans were seen parked outside the cinema this afternoon. Credit: WFE

The squatters inside the shuttered Walthamstow Empire were removed today in a joint operation by council officers and the police.

In a statement announcing the removal, Grace Williams, Waltham Forest Council leader, said that “all squatters were removed from the venue…thanks to the swift action of local police in partnership with council officers.”

The council said the move came after it “regained full possession” of the property from Empire Cinemas.

Enzo Gomes, one of the squatters, told the Echo that a group of ten police officers demanded entry into the building this morning. Enzo, who says the squatters first entered the building two weeks ago, said all of the squatters cooperated with the police and that the eviction was peaceful. Homeless for now, Enzo said he is going to find a new spot to squat in.

The squatters had earlier plastered notices outside the cinema asserting their legal rights to occupy it and had threatened to prosecute anyone who forcibly entered.

The statement by Cllr Williams reads:  “Following the unlicensed music event that took place at the former Empire Cinema building on Saturday 9 September, I’m pleased to say that thanks to the swift action of local police in partnership with council officers all squatters were removed from the venue this morning, Tuesday 12 September.

“The council has regained full possession of the building from the leaseholder – we have put security in place to keep it secure and are recording all the damage that has been caused to this important community asset by the squatters. I’d like to thank the police for their assistance.”

The Echo asked what security measures were being put in place but we did not receive a response in time for publication.

This story is published by Waltham Forest Echo, Waltham Forest's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

Police officers within the entrance of the cinema this afternoon. Credit: WFE

The Scene, the building that the 1,200 seat cinema was housed in, is also the site for restaurants, shops and 121 apartments. In an email sent to residents and businesses by The Scene’s property team, the council was said to have “organised for 24/7 security at the commercial unit” while being “in the process of changing the locks, securing the premises and cleaning the area”.

The Metropolitan Police said the removal of the squatters was a “matter for the landlord of the building” and added that “police are sometimes present in such circumstances to prevent any possible breach of the peace.”

A resident living in an apartment above the cinema told the Echo that the removal of the squatters meant he would be able to sleep at night. Romas Valancius said: “The rave and the squatters presented a massive fire safety risk for us. People were smoking down there [during the rave] and there is a lot of combustible stuff down there that could have turned our apartments into a barbecue.”

Looking forward he hopes that the old cinema will be used as a community space offering activities such as drama and art classes for children and young people. Meanwhile, the council has confirmed it is in discussions with a “range of cinema operators” as it seeks to return the building to use as a cinema “as soon as possible.”

Romas criticised the lack of maintenance or any safety checks on the property after its closure on 7th July. He said: “The squatting could have been prevented altogether had there been fortnightly or weekly maintenance checks on the building. A premises of that size needs caretaking.”

The council has said that the cinema owners retained all security responsibilities after the Empire shut.

The administrator of Walthamstow Cinemas 2 Ltd, the company that owned the cinema, did not respond to a request for comment.

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