A group of Polish squatters have taken control of a pub bought by a Jewish community group which hoped to turn it into a synagogue.
The Swan, in Stamford Hill, has been empty since it closed in January when it was sold to members of the Bobov community.
It is thought the squatters entered the building a number of weeks ago and four people are now living there permanently.
The pub’s front door displays a notice from the group quoting the Criminal Law Act, which is widely used by illegal tenants to make it a crime in most circumstances for a landlord to force entry.
It states: “We live in this property, it is our home, we intend to stay here. There is one person here at all times. It is a criminal offence to enter.”
The JC understands Bobov representatives are prepared to launch a potentially lengthy and expensive civil case to have the group removed, although a spokesman for the community declined to comment.
Police were called to a suspected break-in at the Clapton Common building last week, but were denied entry by the squatters. A spokeswoman confirmed that officers were investigating the theft of a boiler.
All the building’s windows and doors have been covered with steel grilles and shutters. It is believed damage caused within the pub since its closure in January could total thousands of pounds.
The group behind the £1 million purchase has faced obstacles from regulars, who set up a Save the Swan campaign, and arguments with a rival Bobov faction.
The discovery of a restrictive covenant, which prohibits the future use of the building as a pub, had also threatened the deal.
Members of the strictly Orthodox community are known to have clashed verbally with residents in the area who want the pub to reopen.
A Save the Swan representative said campaigners had met the squatters and entered the pub last week.
He added that former regulars were angry that attempts to discuss the building’s future with the Bobovs had been met with silence.
“We are still confident that at some stage we can have a deal to reopen the Swan. Although the Bobovs have not been in contact with us, we still have their word that they will reopen a pub there.”
The possibility of converting the building for religious use has, he said, almost entirely collapsed, with “no one talking about a synagogue opening any more”.
Hackney Council confirmed it has not received any planning applications for the pub, which cannot be used as a shul or community centre without change-of-use permission.