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by administrator @, Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 15:37

The High Court has ruled that a bedroom temporarily occupied by a homeless person in a hostel classess as that person's 'home'.

The law was clarified for the homeless by two senior judges, Lord Justice Elias and Mr Justice Openshaw. They ruled those with rooms in hostels were "as much entitled to the protection of the law" from unauthorised police searches "as those living a more settled, conventional life".

The guideline case involved Omar Prince Thomas, a homeless man whose private bedroom in a hostel was entered and searched by police without his permission. Mr Justice Openshaw described how Met officers raided the hostel in Evans Road, Lewisham, south-east London, in January 2007 to arrest burglary suspect Matthew Hamilton.

The officers told Thomas they were entitled to search his room, as well as Hamilton's as they were in the same premises. The judge said the hostel consisted of a fully-furnished three-bedroom flat with shared living accommodation used by Lewisham council for housing homeless people.

Each occupant only had "a licence to occupy" the property on a daily basis at a cost of £5.05 a day. But each bedroom was individually numbered and could be locked by its occupant.

The judge said another court, Blackfriars Crown Court, decided last August the separate bedrooms did not constitute "separate dwellings".

The crown court judges held that police powers to enter the hostel to arrest burglary suspect Hamilton also gave officers the power to enter and search the whole of the premises, including Thomas's bedroom.

Disagreeing with the crown court, Mr Justice Openshaw said there was "a sufficient degree of exclusive occupation" of the bedrooms in the hostel to make each a separate dwelling under section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, thus limiting the police powers of entry and search.

The judge said: "It seems to me that homeless people living in rooms in local authority hostels are as much entitled to the protection of the law as those living a more settled, conventional life. Indeed, they may be particularly vulnerable and may need more protection.

"It follows from this that (the officers who entered Thomas's room) should be treated as though they were trespassers and were not all the time they remained in his room acting in the course of their duty."

Lord Justice Elias said the fact that each homeless individual had a licence to use a room, if only temporarily, "gives them the right to say 'my home is my castle' as much as anyone else".

However, the judges said their ruling did not mean that a conviction imposed on Thomas by Greenwich magistrates for wilfully obstructing an officer in the execution of his duty had to be quashed.

homeless persons home

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