SQUATTERS have moved into an empty department store just days after it closed to the public.

BHS, in Southend High Street, shut its doors for the final time on Wednesday after the national chain went into administration.

The squatters have put up signs in the store windows explaining they have a right to live in any unoccupied non-residential building under section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 1977.

Curious shoppers were seen peering through the windows yesterday amid claims the squatters had been seen letting others into the building.

The occupation comes weeks after squatters took over the Terrace Guest House, in Royal Terrace, Southend, angering residents in the Georgian street.

Mark Flewitt, councillor for housing and public protection, said squatters have a huge impact- whether on private or public property.

He said: “I think people that squat without licence or contract in any property are committing an audacious crime because they are proud of it.

“The people who own these properties have to go to the trouble of going to court and satisfy the court they are of possession of their own property.

“It is so costly and whether its on public property with travellers in a park or in private property the result is the same.

“We have to get a court order to get them out. “The whole process needs to be looked at because it is inconvenient and traumatic for people who seek repossession of their property.”

Mr Flewitt added: “This isn’t good for people who come to Southend and see this and it’s not something we want to encourage. “Squatters seem to put on a performance for the crowd.

“Because this will be dealt with by liquidators, it will be quite a complex procedure to remove them.”

The Legal Aid Act made an offence of squatting in a residential building following public outcry over the practice.

It also created a legal defence of squatting in a non-residential building.

But squatters can be evicted if the leaseholder can show they are an intended occupier and are being blocked by trespassers.

This proof is usually granted in the form of a court order.

BHS, in Basildon town centre, was one of the first to close last month.