DEFIANT squatters have been given 24 hours to leave an empty office building in Chester city centre following a court ruling this morning.

But the homeless group’s spokesman, Wayne Lammond, told The Standard afterwards that they will simply move out of Hamilton House and occupy another building.

Mr Lammond, who represented the protesters at the hearing, said: “We’re leaving. We’re moving onto the next one!”

Asked where this would be, he replied: “I’m not telling you yet but I’ll let you know! We've got four lined up!”

Chester and District Standard:

Protesters inside the building, which the council says is unsafe to live in.

It comes after a district judge granted an interim possession order for Hamilton House following an application to the county court by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC).

Around 29 people have occupied the five-storey building since last Monday (September 30) in protest at inadequate support services provided by council contractor forfutures.

Mr Lammond used his platform in court to launch a stinging attack on forfutures for letting down homeless people in the city.

A hotly-anticipated 24/7 homeless support hub in the basement of Hamilton House was launched in April this year – but service users say they have been repeatedly let down and turned away.

It has been offering five overnight beds for rough-sleepers, which they say is not nearly enough.

But this has been upped to around 20 as the council seeks to encourage the protesters to move out of the empty building, which it says is dangerous.

“It’s too little, too late,” Mr Lammond told the court on Wednesday (October 9). “We did this to put a roof over our heads and to keep us dry and warm.

"The only reason we did it was because we were fed up with the services downstairs [in the forfutures hub] and getting rejected daily.”

Chester and District Standard:

Inside Hamilton House.

Before District Judge Ian Sanderson, he questioned in open court how the council’s contractor had suddenly found the resource for 20 beds.

CWaC's legal representative, Andrew Harrison, had stated that the building was unsafe and that the council had made “efforts” to meet the needs of protesters wishing to leave Hamilton House.

Although when pressed by the district judge about what these “efforts” were he hesitated and did not elaborate – a reaction that did not go unnoticed by the homeless group’s supporters in the public gallery.

Mr Lammond stressed that the group was aware of the safety risks in the building – including rooms with likely asbestos issues.

“Ninety per cent of it [the building] is good,” he told the court. “The bad areas we’ve earmarked and they’re out of bounds.

Stressing they have caused no damage to the property, he added: “We’ve just used the good parts of the building to keep us off the streets.”

Chester and District Standard:

One of the protesters outside the building last week.

Concluding the hearing, District Judge Sanderson said he was satisfied that all criteria for the interim possession order had been met.

This means the occupiers have 24 hours to leave.

“Not to do so would amount to a criminal offence,” the judge said.

Mr Lammond walked out at this point, saying: “Thank you for your time, Your Honour. I’ve got to go. Nothing else to say.”

The council's reaction to the hearing is here: