A St Leonards flat has been closed by court order following the stabbing of a man outside Christ Church Primary school this week.
At a hearing at Hastings Magistrates Court today (Wednesday), Sussex Police were granted a three-month closure order on a flat at Neal Brook House in Tower Road, in an effort to reduce criminal activity in the area.
The court heard how the property had been taken over by a group of drug dealers who intimidated and controlled its vulnerable tenant James Barnes, 32.
Jack Horlock, representing Sussex Police, said: “What we understand is that they are people not local to the area. They have targeted the flat in what is known as cuckooing”
Mr Horlock said the application had been made as an immediate response to the stabbing in nearby Woodland Vale Road on Monday (September 23) but that a series of other violent incidents had also been linked to the property in recent months.
The incidents mentioned in court included a report that Mr Barnes had himself been stabbed at the property on June 14 and other assaults on October 11 and October 13.
Mr Barnes was aided at the hearing by his friend Philip Catteway, who urged the court not to make Mr Barnes homeless by passing the order.
He said: “All the incidents which have been reported have been instigated by Mr Barnes calling the police, all the offences have been by people from outside both the town and the county and over half happened outside the property. None were created by Mr Barnes.”
Mr Catteway also raised concerns about the wait Mr Barnes would face to find new housing as a result of the order.
District judge Teresa Szagun said: “I know you don’t want me to make this order but I have to balance your rights to somewhere to live with the rights of other to live peaceably in the area and to prevent not only nuisance but serious crime happening in and around the property.”
In response to Mr Catteway’s argument, Judge Szagun considered if an alternative order could be enforced which would allow Mr Barnes to remain in the home but prevent others from entering.
This option was opposed by Mr Horlock, who argued it would not be enough to prevent further incidents taking place as Mr Barnes had been unable to prevent the drug dealers from taking hold of the flat.
In granting the three-month closure order, Judge Szagun said: “I’m obviously extremely concerned at the level of violence which is associated with this property and that there are incidents in close proximity to the school.
“And that Mr Barnes had been unable to control the property and despite the level of violence used against him himself, he has been unable to walk away.
“I can only hope that by making this order it has the desired effect of moving violence and disorder out of this area and that the housing department respond rapidly to the needs Mr Barnes has.”