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Cheers in packed Barnet County Court as Friern Barnet Library squatters' eviction hearing adjourned
Cheers rang out at a packed Barnet County Court this morning as squatters occupying Friern Barnet Library were handed a second stay of execution.
District judge at the Hendon Lane court, Marc Marin, adjourned the eviction hearing for a full trial in December after declaring there was “a clear public interest” in the case.
Activists labelled the decision a “victory for the local community”, while Barnet Council’s deputy leader Dan Thomas said the extension would just prolong the sale of the popular building.
At this morning’s 45-minute hearing, the squatters, who are representing themselves, were asked to put the name of at least one individual to their defence.
They were warned the individuals may be charged for the council’s legal costs if they are unsuccessful at the trial but, following a brief adjournment, five people put themselves forward.
Following the hearing, supporters declared they would be setting up a fund to cover any potential legal costs incurred by the group.
Eviction proceedings were first adjourned in September to allow the squatters to present an argument for their occupation.
Led by self-proclaimed “community organiser” Pete Phoenix, the group, which has reopened the library on a set rota and is loaning books out to visitors, submitted a lengthy defence dossier.
Speaking after today’s decision, Mr Phoenix said: “I’m ecstatic. The judge has given hope to the people of Barnet and to the national libraries campaign that we can save this centre. We’re trying to have sense seen.”
Barnet Council has been in negotiations with the squatters since they gained access to the empty building in August but the authority’s legal representatives told the court there would be no agreement between the parties.
Mr Pheonix said: “This is not what we were told by council officers yesterday. There is a major contradiction between what they’re saying in court and what they’re actually doing. They should drop this court case, talk to us reasonably and sort this out.”
The council is looking to sell off the property for around £400,000 and has offered the squatters an alternative venue to set up a community library at Friary House, in Friary Park.
Cabinet member Councillor Dan Thomas said: “The sale of the building will take some time and this obviously prolongs this. We have offered a perfectly good alternative with better access but this has been refused by a small group who claim to represent the whole community.
“I wouldn’t say it has been frustrating – our officers have been negotiating with them but it is now for the judge to decide if they should stay.”
Those who put themselves forward on behalf of the defence were Daniel Gardner, Petra Albert, Arran Patel, Pete Phoenix and campaigner Keith Martin.
Mr Martin said he was willing to put his money where his mouth is “not because I’m rich, but because it is a cause I believe in”.
A one-day trial has been scheduled for between December 17 and 21, though a provisional second day will also be arranged in case it overruns.
Both parties declared they would be bringing five witnesses to the hearing.
Judge Marin said: “I think it is important that, one way or another, justice is done as quickly as possible in this case.”
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