Squatbusters: The biggest con of the year

I’m loving that the Evening Standard is free now. I barely ever bought it when it cost 50p, but now it is clearly the superior choice to the London Lite (which, it seems, is on its way). I also admire the Standard’s new editorial approach under Geordie Greig which stresses optimism and pride over cynicism and defeatism wherever possible. Sometimes, however, a dose of cynicism can be rather healthy.

This week, the Evening Standard fell for a massive con. Page three of the paper was given over to Forbes Risk, who offer to “squat proof” swanky West London houses for the extortionate fee of £2,600 per week. The picture gives the impression that these men, dubbed ‘The Squatbusters’, mean business, and implies that they would not be afraid to resort to violence if needs be. Just look at those black coats and crossed arms. Grr.

Squatbusters
Who ya gonna call? Squatbusters (Photo: Evening Standard)

However, anyone who knows anything about squatting will point out that squatters can only claim residence if the house is empty. If someone is already inhabiting the house when the squatters attempt to enter, then it is trespassing and they can go to jail. So all Forbes Risk’s Squatbusters are doing is living in a house for £2.6k per week. Hardly taxing stuff; this is basically glamourised house-sitting. I wonder if they also offer to check the TV on a daily basis to make sure it’s still working, or provide a sofa warming service for the gullible owners.

This is a perfect example of having much more money than sense. Surely the owners should be making money out of this, not spending. The example of ‘protection through occupation‘ is well established in the case of vacant offices, whereby office space is rented out at a reduced rate if the occupiers agree to leave on short notice if needed.

In my part of East London, long-term squatting is quite a serious problem. There are two disused pubs within five minutes walk from my flat that are occupied by squatters and the owners seem powerless to remove them. Squatting is a major concern all across London, but paying people to live in your flat seems to be the most absurd solution possible.

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RIP thelondonpaper – Where now for free news?

tlp dead

When thelondonpaper sized up to London Lite in September 2006 it really was a case of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.’ The showdown between two media titans was mouth-watering: Murdoch vs Daily Mail, the fight of the century.

Today’s closure of Murdoch’s freesheet is sad news for media competition in the capital, (not to mention the 60-odd journalists who made it) but in many ways the main surprise is that it took this long for one of the competing titles to fold. It seemed illogical that both could occupy the same patch in very similar styles for so long, but the disclosure of thelondonpaper’s annual losses in August made for a sobering read. Put simply, both sides have been taking considerable losses just for the strategic advantage. I seem to remember a lecture at City where Roy Greenslade called it a ‘brutal turf war’ .

As it stood, they couldn’t both pull a profit, so it was only matter of time before someone blinked first. Whilst £13m per year may seem like a lot to lose, News International (Rupert Murdoch’s multi-national behind thelondonpaper) were willing to take the hit if it meant they could corner off a growing market and take on The Evening Standard (who, like London Lite and The Daily Mail, are owned by DMGT).

This summer has seen something of a sea-change at News International, however, and with his decision to start charging for timesonline.co.uk and sun.co.uk, it rather seems that Mr Murdoch has gone off the idea of giving away journalism for free. This would make perfect business sense, if it weren’t for that pesky BBC News website…

In the long run we may not have seen the last of thelondonpaper – David Crow at City AM speculates that Metro could yet face a fresh challenge to their morning freesheet monopoly in April 2010, when their London tube distribution contract comes up for renegotiation. Furthermore, he argues that London Lite will follow suit and close as well, having seen off the main threat to the Evening Standard. Despite their best efforts to take advertising to new heights, neither London Lite or thelondonpaper have managed to turn a profit, so maybe the lesson here (and from Metro’s financial performance) is that the morning slot is the only profitable realm for free newspapers.

For the time being, the result will be celebrated as a big victory at DMGT. Other beneficiaries include Free Newspapers Cost The Earth who point out the environmental effect of all that waste paper, but I would argue that the closure of thelondonpaper is a big loss for the average London commuter.

From what I gather, thelondonpaper is the more popular choice and many enjoyed comparing and contrasting the two papers and their coverage of stories. So as a parting salute to thelondonpaper, I’ve decided to try my first online poll (below). Let me know whether you’ll miss thelondonpaper, or if you prefer London Lite, or if you simply don’t waste your time on freesheets at all.