On urban explorers

‘A bizarre trial begins on Monday at Blackfriars Crown Court. Its proceedings are predicted to last at least six weeks, and the costs — no doubt extravagant — will be largely borne by taxpayers. At the centre of this legal circus are a group of so-called “place-hackers”, people who get their kicks from gaining access to derelict, secret or otherwise off-limits parts of the city. In recent years such “urban explorers” have become increasingly bold in challenging the official demarcation of public versus private space in our city. These conflicting visions of urban space will clash during this trial.

‘Transport for London, in conjunction with the British Transport Police, has spent 20 months gathering evidence against the 12 accused, but the charge levelled against them is merely that they “conspired to commit criminal damage”. I can only assume that this is because, despite the lengthy investigation, the police have found insufficient evidence of actual damage, and so have resorted to prosecuting what’s effectively a thought-crime. Be that as it may, if convicted, the place-hackers may well receive lengthy prison sentences.

‘I’ve no doubt that TfL and the police are justifiably annoyed by the place-hackers’ antics. Entering abandoned Tube stations, the Crossrail tunnels, the old Post Office railway that runs beneath London — these are breaches of security, without doubt, but if any punishment is appropriate for such behaviour it’s some form of community service, not a jail term. These trespassers hurt nobody and damaged nothing, yet their doors were broken down with battering rams in the dead of night, and one of the defendants was arrested on the tarmac at Heathrow and hauled off his flight handcuffed.’

Read the rest of Will’s piece at the Evening Standard here.