BRAZEN squatters posed as workmen to take over a hotel undergoing refurbishment.

Residents fear the Terrace Guest House in Royal Terrace, Southend, has been turned into a “drugs den” by the squatters .

Up to 30 people are thought to have moved into the hotel overlooking Adventure Island.

Neighbours said a man calling himself the “project leader” showed up on June 29 with two other men who began tidying the garden and bringing in painting equipment.

One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “They said they were doing work but clearly that wasn’t the case.

“They got in through a window and from then on cars and vans just turned up and dropped more people off. There were at least five men, four women and two babies.

“It was unbelievable. One car was a black Mercedes with an expensive private number plate.

“It’s pretty obvious what’s going on there – it’s a drugs den.”

The resident said one man was arrested in the street at about 2pm on Wednesday, but it is not clear whether he was linked to the squatters.

Another resident said the group had not made a noise or caused any other problems.

However, he said people showed up every hour and were made to wait across the street before being allowed in, leading to suspicions people are buying drugs from the premises.

He said: “It’s hard to say whether someone is selling drugs unless you see it in their hands, but it doesn’t exactly look good.

“My worry is that we are in for the long haul with them because they believe they have the law on their side.

“The police showed up yesterday and they refused to let them in.”

Jonathan Garston, councillor for Milton ward, said: “It’s absolutely terrible. It’s such a shame with all the projects going on to improve the area.

“I completely sympathise with the effect that it’s going to have on nervous residents.

“I will be looking into this and asking what’s being done.”

The Georgian terrace is a conservation area and home to two other guesthouses and several flats.

Squatters claim rights

SQUATTERS claim they have a legal right to live in the hotel because it is a non-residential building under section 144 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.

A notice stuck to the front door said: “Any attempt to enter into these premises without our permission is therefore a criminal offence as any one of us who is in physical possession is opposed to such entry without our permission.”

But the Echo observed several people who were allowed entry to the building on Friday afternoon.

The first was a young man who arrived on foot behind two people on bikes who pointed him in the direction of the 14-bedroom hotel.

He motioned to a figure in a top floor window and was allowed in after a couple of minutes.

Ten minutes later a man and a woman arrived along with a young girl in a pushchair.

She pointed to the building and said: “That’s the one, number eight.” 

They also motioned to a top floor window but were told to wait across the road for 20 minutes.

Eventually the man, wearing a grey tracksuit and baseball hat and pushing a BMX, was allowed in.

He was followed shortly afterwards by the woman with the pushchair.

The pair emerged twenty minutes later looking bleary-eyed and with their hoods up.

Another man in a Burberry scarf and blue Adidas shorts also arrived and shouted up at the window.

He too was made to wait across the road before being allowed in.

When The Echo knocked on the front door nobody answered.

Last month the Echo told how squatters had taken over an empty unit at Pier Hill, next to the pier lift.

An Essex Police spokesman said nobody had been arrested in connection with the squat, despite residents claiming to have seen a man led away in handcuffs on Thursday afternoon.

He said: “We have advised the leaseholders to seek an interim possession order as this is a civil matter and not a police matter.”