A human rights charity has accused town hall chiefs of abusing their power by cracking down on protesters.
Demonstrators, who have set up camp next to the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford opposing plans to redevelop the area, received a warning letter from Lewisham council threatening them with a Public Service Protection Order (PSPO).
But Human rights charity Liberty has criticised the council’s use of the order. A PSPO bans specific acts in a geographical area which would not normally be considered illegal.
Corey Stoughton, Liberty’s advocacy director, said “This is a totally inappropriate use of a PSPO that just demonstrates how ripe for abuse these powers are.
“Peaceful protest safeguards our democratic process. Police and local authorities already have powers to restrict illegitimate protests.
“PSPOs must not be used to curtail the right to legitimate protest.
“We have seen these powers used repeatedly to criminalise poverty, now they appear to be used to trample on our rights even further.”
Residents had occupied the Old Tidemill Garden for several months before bailiffs evicted them on October 29.
The group have now set up an encampment on the Frankham House green next to the garden.
Council officers delivered the warning letter on Thursday, November 15 addressed to “occupiers” giving them 24 hours to vacate the area or face a PSPO fine.
No action had been taken against the occupiers by the time we went to press.
Harriet Vickers, a spokeswoman for the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign group, said: “We see this as an attack on democracy. It’s quite clearly a site of protest with the same people as the previous occupation.
“We had a candle lit vigil a few days ago. Any use of PSPO is wrong.”
A Lewisham council spokeswoman said: “We have had a borough-wide Public Space Protection Order in place since January 2018, which covers all public spaces and highways.
“One of the prohibitions under this PSPO covers unauthorised encampments in the borough, whereby any person who, without reasonable excuse, occupies any vehicle, caravan, tent or other structure on public land owned or managed by the council, without prior authorisation, commits an offence.
“On November 15, council officers visited the site where campaigners have set up an unauthorised encampment. A letter was issued to those present notifying them of the PSPO and they were asked to vacate the area within 24 hours. They were also provided with contact details in case they needed further clarification on the order.”