Squatters locked me out, then stole my art


The life of an Israeli artist has been wrecked by a group of Polish squatters who broke into and occupied his home twice, stripping it of his work and possessions.

Ya’akov Boussidan was initially left with bills of hundreds of pounds for telephone calls and utilities, as well as repairs for the damage they caused at his house — once the home of the actress Marie Lloyd — in Lewisham, south London.

While he was trying to regain possession of his home, he fell ill and spent three weeks in hospital.

“It is going to take me a long time to rebuild. They took all my clothes and many of the works of art I created over many years. The whole episode has been extremely upsetting,” said Mr Boussidan. “I knew they were Polish squatters because all the calls they made were to Poland.”

Among the artwork taken was a haggadah that had been etched, sculptures, bronzes, dozens of books and art materials including special pigments and cloth. Mr Boussidan specialises in long-term projects that can take several years to complete.

His problems began last autumn. Mr Boussidan, 69, had gone to Israel to visit his wife Ruth, 32, and their then seven-month-old son. He received a phone call from a neighbour telling him a chain had appeared on the front gate of his house. He called the local police twice and they advised him to come back to London, which he did.

“I had to stay with a friend as I could not get into my own home,” he said. “I spent three hours at Lewisham police station and they questioned me about whether I was the owner. They said it was a civil dispute. They were not helpful.”

At this point he fell ill and a mutual friend in Israel, aware of the situation, contacted solicitor Ian Fagelson.

“The first thing I did was get him into hospital, so he wasn’t homeless any more,” said Mr Fagelson.

The JC published a story about his plight and though Mr Boussidan was not named, people in the community recognised him and arranged a hotel room for him once he left hospital.

Meanwhile, police were still refusing to enter Mr Boussidan’s home, despite Mr Fagelson’s insistence that the law on squatters preventing an owner-occupier from entering his own home had changed more than 30 years ago.

The police finally acted after Mr Boussidan was told that some of his paintings were being sold in Deptford market. “That made it burglary,” said Mr Fagelson.

Two men were arrested — but they were freed only a few days later, after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute them, and they broke into the flat again.

“This time they stole paintings and made an even bigger mess than before. They brought people who knew what they were taking,” said Mr Boussidan. “The house was uninhabitable.

“I have suffered and am still suffering all kinds of emotional and financial consequences out of all this.”

The telephone company Toucan, now part of Pipex, has agreed to waive the bills and charges for the period. British Gas, however, has not yet decided whether to do the same.

A CPS spokesman said that it had been unable to establish “theft, burglary or the intention to commit either act to the criminal standard”. Nor had there been sufficient evidence that “any of the squatters was the man attempting to sell the paintings in the market”.

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