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Brighton artist: 'Squatters beat me up'
An artist claims she was beaten up by squatters who took over her gallery.
Pasha du Valentine rented the former Harlequin nightclub in Providence Place, Brighton, to stage a community art exhibition – but she says before she could start to hang the paintings on the walls, squatters took over.
The 50-year-old says she confronted the squatters, who told her they intended to leave within a few days.
But on her way home in the early hours of Sunday morning, Ms du Valentine said she saw the shutters to the building broken and could hear a party going on inside.
Ms du Valentine, who has appeared on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me, told how she knocked on the door and was let in. She said when the squatters realised who she was, she was dragged out of the building by her hair.
She said: “The squatters moved in two days before I was due to move in. To start with it was quite amicable and they said they would be out in a few days. But then I walked past and it looked like there was a lot of activity.
There seemed to be a party going on. I banged on the door and they let me in then they realised who I was and beat me up.
“Two men were punching me. They dragged me downthe stairs by my hair and were kicking me.”
Ms du Valentine said she was left feeling sore and bruised following her ordeal and also upset that the group of artists taking part in her not-for-profit exhibition had been let down.
She added: “Everybody’s been waiting to get into the club. But now we don’t know how long that will be.
“We are not making any profit so it is making everything much harder.”
A spokeswoman for Sussex Police said: “Police were called to Providence Place in Brighton at 2.40am on Sunday to reports a woman had been assaulted by people squatting in her commercial property.
“Police attended the scene but the woman was not treated in hospital.”
Changes to the law on squatting introduced earlier this year mean it is now a criminal offence to squat in a residential property.
However, squatting in a commercial property – such as Ms du Valentine’s gallery – is still considered a civil matter.
In order to ensure the squatters leave the premises, a court would have to issue an eviction order and give them notice to leave.
Hove MP Mike Weatherley successfully campaigned for changes to the squatting law.
Mr Weatherley said: “This isn’t the first example of squatters using the loophole in the law to continue their anarchistic behaviour.
“What we are saying is that we we want the law to be changed to include commercial properties.”
Mr Weatherley said he has a meeting with justice secretary Chris Grayling next month to discuss extending the law to include non-residential properties.
Last night a private security firm used hammers and a battering ram to force its way through the property’s front door, which had been barricaded by squatters. The squatters, however, had fled earlier through a back door.
Sussex Police are appealing for witnesses to the alleged assault to call 101 with information.