Occupy Bristol protesters now squatting £3m mansion in Clifton
IT was once Bristol's most expensive property – on the market for a cool £4.2 million – but now it is home to 14 squatters.
The new tenants of ten-bedroom property Clifton Wood House, which is now thought to be worth £2.9m, moved in ten days ago.
Nine of the 14 people now living in the exclusive Clifton Wood mansion were previously part of the controversial Occupy Bristol camp located on College Green.
But one of the squatters told the Evening Post they moved off the land when they realised the movement was part of a sinister "social experiment".
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"I'm the king of the castle," one squatter said as he stood on the sunny roof terrace looking down on the smaller houses of his new neighbours in the exclusive area of the city.
Although the squatters – who say they are simply "caretakers" of the empty property – found the house unfurnished, they have begun to move their own furniture in.
Two years ago the elegant rooms were full of antique tables and chairs and expensive mod cons. Now they are being filled with furniture found in peoples' front gardens and at car boot sales.
The squatters have laid mattresses on the floors of each of the bedrooms and have even moved in televisions, DVD players and an Apple Mac computer.
Although the group living in the house has tried and failed to fill the mansion's indoor swimming pool so they can take a dip, they say they are enjoying living in one of the most luxurious properties in Bristol.
"When we walk around Clifton people usually turn their noses up at us, but now we're living in one of the biggest houses in the area," said one, who called himself Haile Bless, adding that he was not talking on behalf of the whole group.
"I believe what we are doing breaks the social divide. People who sneer at us normally live in their posh houses and think we're not on the same level as them. Now my house is bigger than theirs – that's got to dent their egos."
The squatters maintain they are doing their best to look after the Grade II-listed house, which includes a grand sweeping staircase and marble floors.
Mr Haile said the group found out it was empty by looking on the internet, where they claim to have downloaded blueprints. They now have sets of keys to the house, as well as codes used to work the electronic gates.
Although many of the squatters were involved in the Occupy Bristol movement they say they are not connected to it in any way now.
Mr Haile, 21, originally from St Paul's, said: "We stayed at College Green until the shacks started to be taken down.
"Some of us came upon some information which proved that the movement was actually an inside job.
"We believe the Occupy movement was engineered by something called the Tavistock Institute which is connected to MI5.
"We have evidence to show that it was a social experiment aimed at gathering anarchists and political rebels in one place so that they could be identified by the system."
Mr Haile said some of the Occupy protesters then moved into a group of five old houses in Cumberland Road, but felt that a "negative energy" was spreading because they were living too separately.
"Most of us are homeless – victims of the system," said Mr Haile, who said he did not have a job but was not claiming benefits.
"Many of us are musicians and buskers – we hope to set up a sound system in the basement and record some videos which we will put on a Squatters' TV website."
Asked if the squatters have been causing any disturbances, Mr Haile said they are trying to keep noise to a minimum and are trying to work with neighbours to reassure them.
"The police have been here a few times, but we put up a notice telling them we had squatters' rights and told them they were trespassing," he said.
Mr Haile said the group are trying to completely furnish the house themselves – the next item on their wish list is an Aga cooker.
The kitchen already holds a toaster, sandwich maker, microwave and fridge. Mr Haile said these were found at house clearances and car boot sales, and on websites such as Gumtree and Freecycle.
A neighbour of the house, who did not want to be named, said: "The only reason I phoned the police was because I knew the house was empty and saw lights on.
"Since then I've seen young men climbing over the property's wall and I understand they are squatting."
One man, living in nearby Randall Road said: "This is a very quiet cul-de-sac that would be ruined by lots of loud music. I just don't understand how they get away with it in a big place like that."
Another resident said: "As long as the basement was soundproofed it would be fine, but of course it will not be. I have got two young children and we all need our sleep so loud music all night is not a good idea. I would think if it did happen everybody around here would be up in arms."
Title deeds for the property, seen by the Evening Post, name the current owner as Petros Georgiou Birakos.
The Post contacted his son, Jason Birakos, who said his father used to own the property but did not want to comment. Mr Birakos junior had a run-in with squatters in 2009 when a property he owned in Clifton was occupied by around 50 squatters.
It is thought the building is now in the hands of administrators. It was previously for sale through estate agents Knight Frank, and in 2010 was on the market for £4.2m.
The company said it could not make any comment about the house.
A police spokeswoman said the issue was now a "civil matter".