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'Violent thugs hurl rocks' at MP
A Conservative MP has said he had rocks and tomatoes hurled at him after he was ambushed by around 50 "violent thugs" ahead of a talk on squatting.
Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove in East Sussex, had to seek refuge in a room as shouting protesters gathered outside at the University of Sussex near Brighton.
He had been invited to talk about his involvement in changing the law to criminalise squatting but just before the debate was to start, a large mob of non-students surrounded him and threatened him, he said. Security officials barricaded him and his staff in a room until the police arrived and took him away in a van.
Mr Weatherley said: "It's absolutely outrageous that a peaceful event such as this should be hijacked by a group of violent thugs. As soon as I walked into the lecture theatre someone attempted to punch me. The event was immediately abandoned, but as we tried to leave, rocks were hurled, and two female members of my staff were injured."
One member of Mr Weatherley's staff had her arm crushed in a door while another had a rock thrown at her neck, it was claimed. Mr Weatherley said they were "very fortunate" to have found a room to lock themselves in, away from the crowd.
Mr Weatherley has campaigned against squatting since his election in 2010. Powers which came into effect on September 1 allow local authorities to call in the police to arrest squatters, rather than pursuing lengthy civil eviction proceedings through the courts.
Under the powers, contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, councils can remove squatters by simply complaining to the police who, if satisfied that the claim is genuine, can arrest the illegal tenants.
The university said: "We are appalled to hear that Mike Weatherley was prevented from speaking on campus by a group of protestors. (They are) not our students."
A statement on the Squatters' Network of Brighton (And Hove Actually) website said: "His security and aides struggled to protect him as he fled, chased by a mob throwing eggs, tomatoes and other things. With no cops in sight, people were really showing their anger.
"Weatherley repeatedly shunned debate with any squatters before he criminalised us. This is the only time he has talked in public about squatting. People tried to let their voices be heard through the Government consultation on squatting, which came out as 90% opposed to banning squatting. This is why a broad range of people chased him off campus today. There were students, squatters, and supporters present."