Men with baseball bats, crowbars and a snarling rottweiler tried to force a group of terrified squatters from their legal home.

As some of the frightened group of squatters barricaded themselves into a bedroom, the six-strong gang broke windows and furniture, slashed a tent and urinated over bedding.

The gang smashed their way into the two semi-detached houses in Kingsway, Hove, at about 3pm on Monday.

Police were called to the scene and later arrested three men on suspicion of criminal damage and threatening behaviour.

Sam Jones, a 25-year-old squatter, said: "We heard them coming in so a few of us, including my girlfriend, barricaded ourselves in the bedroom.

"I was holding the door shut and they smashed it through with a crowbar, which cut my face and neck. There is a window at the side of the room and they smashed it to try and get in. One of them was kneeing the rottweiler in the head trying to wind it up and make it go for us.

"My girlfriend was screaming.

It was terrifying. They said they would be back and we would be thrown out."

Under section six of the Criminal Law Act, squatters have the right to occupy a property as long as they did not use force to break in.

The group of about 12 men and women have been in the house for about three weeks, claiming they found house keys outside.

John Shipsey, 50, said: "In over 30 years of squatting I have never seen anything like it. They were animals and we were not even offering any resistance.

"People were getting thrown around and everything was being smashed. They even tore out the fuse box to cut the electricity.

We won't be intimidated or bullied. We have a legal right to be here."

The houses are owned by Hove-based Stranmede Limited, which is applying for planning permission to turn them into flats.

Workers sent by Stranmede had earlier gone to the houses to board them up and make them secure, only to be confronted by the squatters.

They called the police but were informed it was a legal squat. The gang arrived some three hours later.

Property developer David Martin, a director of Stranmede, said: "Some of our guys went down to board up the property but found there were squatters there.

"The police wouldn't move them on, which I think is ludicrous.

I know for a fact the keys were not left outside.

"I wasn't there later on so I don't know the details but I know there was some argybargy.

It is a lot easier for the police to arrest three men rather than a dozen squatters.

We have applied to the courts to evict these people and we expect they will be gone by next week."