For most property owners saddled with a squatter problem, kicking them out is a simple matter of hiring bailiffs to serve papers.
But clearing out Bloomsbury House, a 5,521 square foot Grade II-listed former stately home in central London, tured into such a complex task that it ended up looking like a Special Forces rescue operation.
The £300,000-a-year commercial property, thought to be awaiting a new lease, is so attractive that any squatters managing to escape without being handed an eviction notice could be tempted to return.
They can also climb onto its roof or balconies, making it too dangerous to continue efforts to remove them.
So a team of former soldiers, firemen and police officers was contracted to carry out an ultra-coordinated raid in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Several contractors from Specialist Grop International were seen abseiling down on zip-lines from the roof at around 4:30am, blocking off the windows.
SGI group Leader Peter Faulding, 59, a former paratrooper known as the ‘human mole’ for his ability to crawl through tight spaces, said: ‘It probably looked a bit like the siege. But like anything military, it’s all about safety.
“This wasn’t about going in hard – it was about making sure people didn’t get injured, that’s what we are about.
‘We have 100% safety record though, so we were contracted a few weeks ago to launch the operation and rehearsed the plan before hand in similar conditions.’
The property, which has previously been used as a wedding venue and conference centre, was found ‘trashed’, he said.
The company, hired by bailiffs Veritas, is also used by police to recover evidence in difficult situations and to evict protesters.
Mr Faulding safely excavated the eco activist Swampy in 1996 when he famously spent a week in a hand-dug tunnel trying to stop the expansion of the A30 in Devon.
He previously criticised the operation by HS2 bailiffs to dig out Swampy and at least four other activists who tunneled under a park near Euston station last year.
Speaking on Thursday, he continued: ‘We’ve always built a good relationship with protestors, in all the incidents we’ve dealt with we’ve never had an accident or aggression.
‘These people in this building were squatters, so it was a different approach, but despite it being a “raid” we try to be kind and respectful.’
He said the company’s most successful tactic is to offer squatters a coffee and be compassionate, adding: ‘You just have to be caring and treat everyone the same, give them a smile and help them safely get out.
‘We’ve never had any problems as a result.’