POLICE armed with sniffer dogs have today been searching the grounds of an arts hub which was repossessed.
Officers have been at the scene of the Lodge Arts Centre & Park Café, in Victoria Park, Portsmouth.
It comes following protests by cultural activists who accused Portsmouth City Council of ‘bully boy’ tactics after the authority changed the locks on the cherished Victoria Park facility.
Fresh images coming through this morning have also revealed that a brightly-coloured mural, which had adorned the fence around the lodge, has been painted a dull brown. The centre’s yellow shutters have also been painted white.
Taking to Facebook, lodge support Janet Sampson said it was a ‘sad day for the city and culture’.
Last night, dozens of demonstrators held a protest outside the lodge after an operation by the council, supported by police, descended into chaos.
Earlier, five people were arrested after the city council changed the locks on the building, unannounced.
The authority took hold of the lodge following the expiration of the lease that was held by Art & Soul Traders on Sunday.
It came just a day after the council agreed for the lodge to host a fundraiser at the weekend.
The city council says that Art & Soul Traders were repeatedly informed on multiple occasions that its lease of the building would expire at the weekend.
Owen Buckwell, the council’s director of property and housing said: ‘Mr Lewis was contacted over eight months ago advising him the lease would expire on Sunday, February 5.
‘Repeated efforts were made offering alternative premises and we urged him to get in touch because the lease expiry was fast approaching.
‘We had hoped to avoid any confrontation and resolve this amicably.’
Speaking last night, Dee Matsuda, 36, of Fratton, branded the council’s actions as ‘underhanded’.
She said: ‘The council seemed to plaster this as some little hippy hot spot but its far more than that.
‘The lodge is a community haven and they’re taking that away from us.’
Mark Lewis, 48, of Teddington Road, Milton has been charged with two counts of assaulting a police constable, possession of a cannabis, and using threatening language or behaviour with intent to cause fear or provoke unlawful violence.
Alison Brett, 51, of Clarence Parade, Southsea, has also been charged by police for allegedly assaulting a police officers.
Both will appear at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court on March 9.
A 23-year-old man from Portsmouth received a police caution.
A 52-year-old man and a 28-year-old man have been released with no further action.