FIVE people have been arrested after a scuffle following the council changing the locks of Lodge Arts Centre & Park Cafe in Portsmouth.
Police confirmed the arrests, which happened today in Victoria Park.
A video from the scene shows Mark Lewis, director of Art & Soul Traders, which runs The Lodge Arts Centre & Park Cafe, being handcuffed having apparently been sprayed with pepper spray.
A spokeswoman from police earlier said: ‘We received a call at 9.46am today from Portsmouth City Council staff who requested our assistance while they carried out an eviction in Anglesea Road.
‘We attended the scene. Two police officers were assaulted, one sustaining a knee injury.
‘A total of five people have been arrested.
‘A 48-year-old man from Southsea has been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, using threatening/abusive behaviour and possession of a controlled drug of Class B.
‘A 51-year-old woman from Southsea was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
‘A 23-year-old woman from Portsmouth, a 28-year-old man from Southsea and a 52-year-old man from Southsea have all been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass.
‘All are currently in police custody.’
People gathered at the lodge after Portsmouth City Council began repossessing it this morning.
Officers from the council sought the repossession after the expiration of Art & Soul Traders’ lease on Sunday.
The traders were served eight months’ notice on the building in June last year with the council looking to turn the Victoria Park premises into a hub helping disabled people get back into work.
The council say that Art & Soul Traders was repeatedly informed on multiple occasions that its lease of the building would expire at the weekend.
Only yesterday, permission was given by the council’s sub-licensing committee for a fundraiser at the Lodge to go ahead this Saturday.
Owen Buckwell, the council’s director of property and housing said: ‘Mark 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. Today’s actions are upsetting for everyone involved.
‘Two female members of staff felt aggressively threatened and had no choice but to call the police.’
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Portsmouth City Council said: ‘This is another voluntary organisation in the city that’s been driven out.
‘For the owner to go in and find the locks have been changed by the council seems very underhand.’
The Liberal Democrat group carried out a public consultation with 1,500 people last year where it was found that 95 per cent of those surveyed wanted Art & Soul Traders to remain at The Lodge.
Councillor Vernon-Jackson added: ‘I am worried that the council is rejecting the views of 94 per cent of people in the city.’
Councillor Steve Pitt called the council’s actions appalling.
‘I’m shaking with a mixture of anger and genuine shock,’ he said.
‘Portsmouth City Council have gone to the lodge either overnight or early this morning and repossessed the building.
‘Mark Lewis and Art & Soul Traders are out on the street.
‘I’m disgusted, appalled and very upset. Mark called me this morning and it was obvious that he was greatly distressed. It’s so, so sad.’
Jane Douglas, of charity Hope Not Hate, described the situation as ‘very sad’.
Ms Douglas, who lives in Baffins, said the Lodge was regularly used by the Portsmouth branch of the charity as a place to hold free monthly meetings.
She said: ‘It’s such a valuable asset to the community. It’s a very sad situation if we end up losing this facility.
‘The council needs to understand how important the facility is to the community.
‘It’s the essence of Portsmouth as everybody knows it.’
DeeAnn Rose, of Earnest Road, is the volunteer co-ordinator at the Lodge.
She said: ‘Mark and his wife, Allie, came to use the facility this morning and found that the locks had been changed with the council officers present.
‘They told them it was being repossessed and the police showed up.’
She added there was an incident which then led to Mr Lewis being arrested.