Housing

Met Police apologises after 'inhumane' destruction of homeless people's tents near Camden hospital

Footage of tents being destroyed after Anthony Sinclair was arrested for refusing to leave his tent sparked outrage in November. Now Met Police commissioner Mark Rowley has apologised following legal action

rough sleepers tents being destroyed Camden

Footage of the tents being destroyed in Camden has caused outrage on social media. Image: Streets Kitchen

Metropolitan Police commissioner Mark Rowley has apologised to a homeless man who faced “inhumane” treatment when he was arrested and saw his tent destroyed in Camden, North London.

Anthony Sinclair was arrested and locked up for six hours after refusing to leave the spot where he was sleeping rough in a tent near University College London Hospital on 10 November last year.

Footage of tents being destroyed in the incident, which came just days after former home secretary Suella Braverman’s controversial comments describing street homelessness as a “lifestyle choice”, sparked blistering fury on social media.

Now, following legal action from human rights lawyers Liberty, the Met Police commissioner has admitted officers acted unlawfully and apologised to Sinclair. He will also receive compensation and damages for his unlawful arrest.

“The treatment that I and others received at the hands of police officers was inhumane,” said Sinclair

“I was arrested for refusing to leave the place where I had been living for eight months and, while I was held for six hours in custody, my tent and other belongings were taken away and destroyed.

“I am glad to see this admission from the police that this was wrong, and I hope that no one in the future receives the treatment that I did.”

Hospital bosses, working with the Met Police, ordered the removal of around 10 tents on the grounds of the hospital near the entry to its Grafton Way building on 10 November.

Police authorised a dispersal order and directed people living in the tents to leave the area, giving just 90 minutes for the homeless rough sleepers to pack up their belongings and move on.

Sinclair was arrested when he refused to leave and his belongings – including his tent, mattress and toiletries – were disposed of by Camden Council while he was in custody. The local authority apologised for its part back in November with deputy leader Adam Harrison describing the incident as “unacceptable”.

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Sinclair threatened legal action against the police, on the grounds that dispersal orders should not prevent people from accessing the place where they live – in this case, the tent in which he had been living for several months.

Liberty said that the actions of the police breached Sinclair’s human rights, and put him and numerous other homeless people at risk of harm.

Now, after a legal challenge, the Metropolitan Police commissioner has apologised.

In a letter, the Met described the move as “not the appropriate cause of action” and admitted that it was not lawful for officers to authorise a dispersal order or to issue directions to Sinclair, particularly because he had been living in that place for an extended period.

They also accept that officers unlawfully interfered with Sinclair’s right to respect for his private and family life under the Human Rights Act. 

Lana Adamou, a lawyer at Liberty, said: “We all have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, whatever our circumstances. But increasingly, people living on the streets are being subject to unfair and degrading treatment by police, putting them at risk of harm. 

“This government is criminalising poverty and homelessness, and police are misusing powers they have been given such as dispersal orders as a short-term fix to remove people from an area, instead of providing support or dealing with the root causes of these issues.

“We’re glad to see the police admit that their officers should not have treated our client or the other people affected in this way and that our client’s rights were breached, and we welcome the commissioner’s apology. This sends a clear message that dispersal orders should not be used against people living on the streets in this way.”

Footage of refuse workers throwing tents into a waste disposal truck was shared thousands of times on X, formerly known as Twitter, after being shared by grassroots homelessness group Streets Kitchen.

The incident reached the attention of London mayor Sadiq Khan, who said he was “appalled” by the footage and urged the police “to make sure it doesn’t happen again in our great city”.

Elodie Berland, a co-ordinator for Streets Kitchen who also supported Sinclair through the legal action, said: “We were shocked though not surprised to witness the Metropolitan Police and Camden Council’s cruel actions attacking those at perhaps the lowest points of their lives experiencing homelessness.

“This was not an isolated incident where powers were used unlawfully to disperse people and destroy their possessions. This is sadly something we witness regularly.

“The Met’s acknowledgment that they indeed acted unlawfully and their apology are certainly a step in the right direction and highlights the need to always be observant and resist such cruel acts whenever they occur anywhere. Being homeless is not a crime – the fact that it exists should be.”

A UCLH spokesperson previously said the decision was made to remove rough sleepers following “public health concerns”. They added the hospital is “deeply committed to improving the health and wellbeing of homeless people”.

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