One of the first prosecutions in the country brought under a new squatting law has collapsed after a judge said police had failed to provide any evidence the accused was living in the property.
The retrial of Dirk Duputell was thrown out of Hove Trial Centre yesterday after Judge Paul Tain ruled there was no case for the 30-year-old to answer.
Judge Tain advised Sussex Police that any future convictions under the legislation would need to be based on evidence gathered through forensic work, surveillance and door-to-door inquiries.
Squatting campaigners celebrated the decision outside court and said the verdict showed the law banning squatting in residential properties, which was instigated by Hove MP Mike Weatherley, was “unnecessary and unworkable”.
Mr Duputell was arrested on September 3 last year after he was found superglued around the joist of a wooden beam with Tobias Sedgwick and Alistair Cannell in a property in London Road, Brighton, just days after the new law came into power.
The case against Mr Sedgwick and Mr Cannell was thrown out in April.
Prosecutors claimed that video evidence taken by police officers at the scene showing bedding in the property as well as fresh food in the fridge was evidence that there were people liv- ing in the building.
They also claimed that a sighting of a man fitting Mr Duputell’s description
with a distinctively shaved head and blond Mohawk spotted on the roof of the building hours before the men were arrested was proof he was living there.
Judge Tain said there was absolutely no evidence that Mr Duputell was residing there and that his presence could have been because he was a visitor or someone who “had gathered in support with this group making a political point”.
Speaking after the verdict, Mr Duputell said: “I think it just shows the new law is not working, that they had to go to this expensive trial for the judge and magistrates to decide there is no case to answer.”
Campaigners argued that the new squatting law had been used to pro- vide a free eviction for a private company at taxpayers’ expense from a building that even now remained empty.
A Sussex Police spokesman said: “The comments by the court will be noted and will be discussed with the Crown Prosecution Service, who pre- sented the case, in due course.”