Group fined for squatting in Croydon.
GROUP of friends are among the first people to be fined for squatting in Croydon.
Marta Alonzo-Navarro, 32, David Fernandez Plaza, 24, Gonzalo Gomez, 20, Alfredo Guerra-Barrera, 24, Jesus Palomeque, 30, Guillen Samartin, 19, and Marta Torres, 24, initially denied occupying the housing association property in Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, without permission.
Their trial had been due to start this week, but at Croydon Magistrates' Court on Monday they changed their plea to guilty.
The friends, originally from Spain, are among the first to be prosecuted in Croydon under the Government's recent anti-squatting legislation.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser was told the group entered the house, which had fallen into disrepair after being empty for a number of years, through a hole in the roof.
On November 13 last year they were arrested and then charged with squatting under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which came into force last September.
The law criminalises squatting in residential premises, but has provoked criticism from campaigners who say it will increase homelessness by forcing squatters onto the street.
The seven-strong group, who spoke through two interpreters, were accused of damaging the house while living in it, an allegation Louise Thomas, defending, said they denied.
Addressing all of the defendants, District Judge Baraitser said: "What aggravates this offence is that you pleaded guilty so late in the day, requiring the Crown to call witnesses to attend court, leading to a great deal of costs in order to prove their case."
Each defendant was fined £100, ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £20 and £250 in compensation.