Squatters to blame for Finsbury Park house fire, says owner’s relative

A HOUSE fire in Finsbury Park was caused by squatters who had plagued the building for nearly five years.

The three-storey residence in Fonthill Road had been turned into a drug den since the freeholder moved into a care home in 2006. Despite repeated attempts to get rid of the squatters, the family had no luck until the blaze last month.

But now Islington Council is demanding thousands of pounds in unpaid Council Tax on the building for the last five years.

A relative of the house owner, who asked not to be named, explained: “The house has been in our family for about 35 years – all the kids grew up there.

“The squatters moved in within three months of it being empty. We chased the first lot away, then a second lot came so we chased them away, then a third lot... it was endless. It was a crack den at one point and there were needles all over the place.

“We told the police about it, but they said it was a civil matter. Then we told the council, but they said they couldn’t help us either. We contacted the utility companies but they said they couldn’t shut the gas and electric off.

“Then we put anti-climb paint up to stop them getting in, but the police told us we had to put signs up to warn the squatters, as if one of them hurt themselves they could sue us. I wasn’t very happy about that.

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“In the end, the whole house was bricked up from top to bottom to stop them getting in, but then the council told us the neighbours had complained it was an eyesore and we had to put the windows back, which cost a lot of money. After that the squatters got back in.

“I am sure the fire was an accident, but they definitely had lights in there for growing drugs, maybe one of them fell over. It is ironic that we tried everything to get them out in the end they did it themselves.

“Now the council has sent bailiffs round demanding �12,000 for Council Tax for the last five years. The whole thing is a nightmare. I just want to wash my hands of it.”

Councillor Paul Smith, Islington Council’s executive member for environment, said: “We’re on our residents’ side and want to bring empty homes back into use to help with Islington’s housing shortage.

“This property has been empty for some years and we’ve offered advice to the family on restoring and securing it. We’re continuing to look for a long-term solution with them.

“Generally speaking the council has no powers to deal with squatters. We can take action where there are complaints about noise or concerns about environmental hazard.”