A family with a six-month old baby say they resorted to squatting in an empty one-bedroom Tolworth council flat out of desperation after spotting it was empty, write Nazia Dewji and David Gazet.
Unemployed builder Marlon Pede, 43, said he climbed in through an unfastened window in the ground-floor flat in Chaffinch Road early last week before changing the locks and moving his girlfriend Clare MacDonald, 21, and son Dre in.
The couple slept on a mattress on a bare concrete floor, while Dre was asleep in a car seat.
They were escorted out on Wednesday by five police officers and two council workers, shortly after the delivery of two second-hand sofas from the Fircroft Trust charity shop.
Mr Pede said before he was evicted: “We thought we were trying for squatters’ rights. We have tried every avenue to do it properly. Normally I wouldn’t do that, but because of the nature of the situation I would climb through a fire if it put a roof over my son’s head.”
He claimed the flat had been empty for five or six months and he had noticed it because a friend lived in the block.
The couple moved to England from Guernsey in August 2013, but have been unable to find work and are currently claiming jobseeker’s allowance.
They had also tried to get a flat with Hillingdon Council.
Mr Pede’s other daughter Jade is living with his mother, he said.
Miss MacDonald, an ex-beauty student, said: “We are both trying to find work. This was the only way to get their attention.”
The family said they had slept in a car on Wednesday night after being evicted from the Tolworth flat.
Councillor Gaj Walloopillai, opposition lead for better homes, said: “I don’t condone squatting, but the council has a responsibility to address homelessness.
“This is the most shocking case I have heard of. It is compounded by the fact that they have a small child but it is terrible regardless.”
But Councillor Patricia Bamford, lead member for better homes, said: “If you had earmarked a property to move into and someone moved themselves in there you wouldn’t like it would you?
“I do feel sympathy; housing is a serious issue.”
A spokesman for the Kingston Federation of Residents said: “The lack of adequate social housing is rapidly becoming the number one problem not just in this borough but right across Greater London and the south east, and the problem is now too great for any individual local authority to resolve.”
Kingston Council has brought more than 800 empty homes back into use since 2010 by negotiating with owners and giving them grants to do up properties. But there are still about 7,000 people left on the council house waiting list, Coun Banford said.