UTILITIES giant Thames Water has provoked fury by evicting homeless tent dwellers on one of the coldest nights of the year.
Some of the victims claimed what little they had, including tent poles, was damaged during the operation, leaving them completely exposed to the elements.
Eviction notices, dated Wednesday, November 29, were addressed to “the owners and occupants of tents, Speen Water Treatment Works, Moor Lane, Newbury” and warned: “If you do not leave immediately today... together with all of your belongings, we will... evict you and have instructed our bailiffs to do so on our behalf.”
The notices went on to warn that any property would be seized and sold, and concluded: “Neither Thames Water Utilities Ltd nor [enforcement agents] Bryan Lecoche Ltd will accept any actual or consequential liability as a result of carrying out the above action.”
One of those evicted, Paul ‘Charlie’ Charlesworth, said he became homeless after losing, first his job and then his home after sustaining devastating leg injuries in a road accident.
He said: “I came back to my tent to find it had been opened and the notice left inside.
“We were doing no harm and got on well with people living nearby, who were kind and sympathetic towards us.”
Others claimed that tent poles had been damaged, rendering them useless and forcing their owners to sleep rough without even that form of protection.
In February, a homeless person’s tent on the Kennet and Avon Canal bank was destroyed in a suspected arson attack, although no one was hurt.
Thirty-four-year-old Mr Charlesworth said: “We stuck together for safety at night but now we’ve had to split up.”
A spokesman for Healthwatch West Berkshire, Andrew Sharp, said: “We are very, very concerned that one of society’s most vulnerable groups, who suffer some of life’s largest health inequalities, with an average life span of 47 years, are being evicted in such a heavy-handed manner.
“There are allegations of damage being done to the very few possessions these people own.
“Some of them are in a desperate state.”
He added: “Thames Water carried out this action on one of the coldest days and nights of the year.
“We would be very interested to discuss this with Thames Water, who made £605m last year.”
A spokeswoman for Thames Water, Becky Trotman, said: "We allowed the campers to stay for longer so they had the option of visiting a new homeless shelter. We eventually asked those who hadn’t already moved on to leave a couple of days later.
"Our sites contain important infrastructure to enable us to supply drinking water to millions of homes, so we cannot put the security of those sites at risk by allowing people to camp on them."
She added: “The issue of homelessness is one we take seriously and in the last few months we’ve been supporting Berkshire-based charity Launchpad with their work to raise awareness of the problem.
"We have also made a donation through our charities’ committee to a homeless project which helps rough sleepers.”