SQUATTERS who have taken over an empty Chester office block have been warned there is likely to be deadly asbestos in the building.

The council and its partner agencies have conducted a safety review of Hamilton House, which has been occupied by homeless protesters since last Monday (September 30).

Asbestos contains minute fibres that can cause serious lung diseases over time if breathed in.

Other hazards include broken glass, a large hole in one of the floors, exposed electrical wires and flammable materials.

The protesters are up in arms about a perceived lack of housing support from Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) and its contractor forfutures.

They said there is no reason why they should ensure nights on the cold, wet streets when there are empty office blocks available.

But the council says the building is highly unsafe and has passed on a letter to the group outlining its concerns and advice for the occupants to stay as safe as possible.

The authority has urged the protesters to:

• Keep away from areas where asbestos type debris was identified.

• Keep away from electrical circuit boards and the electrical supply to the building.

• You want to remove waste from the building, bins will be in place shortly

• Smoke outside in the welfare area to prevent the risk of fire

• Don’t drink any water from the main supply, use the bottled water being supplied

• In the event of any injury or illness please notify security who can help immediately.

The council letter, shared with the media, states: “The building has damage throughout; this may have taken place over a number of years and we are not accusing you of causing this. However, our team found broken glass, damaged door frames with shards on the ground, dislodged light fittings, damaged walls, and ceilings that are letting in water.

“There are a number of damaged floors, both with coverings ripped up in several places exposing debris underneath and also more serious sections where flooring is missing. There is at least one large hole which occupants could fall through. You have advised us that you have made occupants aware of this and to keep away from this area and the floor covering has been pulled back to expose the hole.”

Highlighting the individual risks, the letter continues: “Asbestos: Thank you for helping the inspection team to identify areas where material likely to be asbestos could be found. Together we found likely asbestos in places including damaged ceiling and roof material, pipe cladding, floor covering and pipework protecting water and gas services. As we discussed please don’t access these areas and continue to seal off rooms you may be worried about.

“To be clear, we still feel there might be other areas with asbestos. We believe this is a risk to your health and you should vacate the building.

“Fire: There is a risk of fire in the building and we found a number of flammable materials. We have set up the Welfare Area outside the building and smoking in this area would reduce the risk of ashes igniting.

“You have shown us your sign in and out system for the building, we would be keen for you to share this with us so we have a clearer idea of the number of occupants in case of a fire or other emergency.

“Electrics and gas: We found exposed electrical circuit boards, fuses and wiring. Please keep away from these. Although some of the lights were working, there were a number of areas where the lights were off so please be careful in dark areas and at night.

“Waste: You’ve talked to us about the need to get rid of the waste that is collecting in the building. Bins are on their way to the Welfare Area and if you can bag up anything you want to be removed and leave it in this area until that time we will take them away. This includes any food waste from the provisions we are sending in every day.

“We have to advise you that we believe the building is not suitable for you to live in and encourage you to come and speak to us about your options. The forfutures hub is open.”

Meanwhile, the squatters have been warned they could be committing a criminal offence if they remain in Hamilton House.

There are said to be around 20 homeless people still living in the empty block, which is now surrounded by metal fencing with security guards at the entrance.

The council is urging them to seek help at the forfutures hub on the ground floor of the building and they will be provided with accommodation within the borough. It is thought around seven have taken up this offer so far.

In a separate letter to the occupants, CWaC said: “We are here to support you and if you speak with our teams in the ground floor hub today, we will be able to offer you somewhere safe to stay.

“This might begin with shelter-type accommodation and could involve bed and breakfast or direct access beds in the future. There is a national housing crisis and Cheshire West is no different.

“Ultimately we would like to be able to offer permanent accommodation for those eligible under current legal requirements. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee this will be in the area you want to live - it might be in other areas of the borough where the size and type of you housing you need is available.

“The hub on the ground floor is open and we invite you to come down and speak to staff about your situation. Several people have already done this and have been offered alternative accommodation in the past few days.

“As we have already said, your safety remains our main concern. This building is not a safe place to be.

“It is for this reason that the legal process to bring the occupation of this building to an end is progressing. As this process continues, it may become a criminal matter rather than a civil matter. Officers from Cheshire Police will be available to speak with you to explain this legal process and to answer any questions you may have. We hope to see you in the homeless hub soon.”