THE repossession of a much-loved arts hub descended into chaos with five people being arrested.
Police were accused of ‘taking a sledgehammer to a nut’ as officers made the arrests at the Lodge Arts Centre & Park Cafe in Anglesea Road, Landport, Portsmouth as the city council changed the locks on the building.
The police’s response was like taking a sledgehammer to a nutJane Douglas, of charity Hope Not Hate
The authority took hold of the lodge following the expiration of the lease that was held by Art & Soul Traders on Sunday.
It comes just a day after the council agreed for the lodge to host a fundraiser at the weekend.
A dramatic video from the scene shows Mark Lewis, director of Art & Soul Traders, which ran The Lodge Arts Centre & Park Cafe, being handcuffed having apparently been sprayed with pepper spray.
Jane Douglas, of charity Hope Not Hate said: ‘The police’s response was like taking a sledgehammer to a nut.
‘I don’t think there was a need to have so many officers there.
‘They should have taken more time to negotiate before getting involved in arresting people.’
Ms Douglas, who lives in Baffins, said the Lodge was regularly used by the Portsmouth branch Hope Not Hate 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.’
DeeAnn Rose, of Earnest Road, is the volunteer co-ordinator at the Lodge who said she saw Mr Lewis being arrested.
She said: ‘He tripped and then all of a sudden they piled on him and used pepper spray on him before he was then dragged away and arrested.
‘I can’t quite believe that it’s now come to this. It’s a big part of Portsmouth and people are passionate about fighting for it.’
Richard Randall, a volunteer at the Lodge said: ‘The council have slyly gone in over night and changed all the locks on the entire building despite agreeing with Mark to let him hold an event at The Lodge on Saturday.’
Police confirmed the arrests, which happened after officers arrived at the scene in Victoria Park at about 9.46am.
A spokeswoman from the police said: ‘We received a call at 9.46am. We attended and two police officers were assaulted, one sustaining a knee injury. A total of five people have been arrested.’
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 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.
‘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.’
But Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the 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 Lib Dems 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.
n A 48-year-old man from Southsea was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, using threatening behaviour and possession of a controlled drug and a 51-year-old woman from Southsea was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
A 23-year-old woman from Portsmouth, 28-year-old man from Southsea and a 52-year-old from Southsea were all arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass. All remained in police custody last night.