SQUATTERS have been given an enforcement notice after taking up residence in Basildon’s old M&S store.

Marks and Spencer have issued an order of possession against “persons unknown” who have moved into the store space in Basildon Town Square.

The order, issued by District Judge Callaghan at Basildon County Court, tells the occupants they must leave the premises or face being forced to move if the matter goes to High Court.

The order was issued on December 7, just under eight months since the retail giant closed the store for the final time.

Residents living near the area have said the squatters spent several days attempting to break into the premises, using boxes to disguise what they were doing.

It is reported more than a dozen squatters are now living inside.

One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “They have been there around two weeks or so. I spoke to the security guard in the B&M store nearby.

“Apparently they stacked boxes outside to disguise the fact that they were working on the doors to gain entry. They then printed their squatters’ rights papers in Basildon Library.

“There are quite a number in there now, may be in double figures. As my wife and I walked past on Saturday we noticed lights are on inside the store.

“We thought there maybe workmen doing some jobs inside inside.

“We’ve sees two go inside and a third man chaining the doors from the inside.”

Marks and Spencer announced plans to potentially close the town centre store in January this year, with the official confirmation arriving in February. This meant the 91 jobs at the store were lost.

The closure was part of M&S’s programme to modernise its UK store estate to better meet the changing needs of customers.

Head of Region for Essex Hilary Wilkinson at the time thanked customers for their loyal support.

Following the announcement, the Echo launched a petition to save the store from closure, which has since gained more than 3,900 signatures.

An M&S spokesman said: "The building is not safe for this type of occupancy. As a responsible tenant and neighbour we need to take action, we will work with the council to ensure the occupants are aware of the housing support available if needed.”