A THREE-WEEK stand-off between squatters and the owners of a city centre building has finally ended.
Occupiers of the former Forest Cafe in Bristo Place walked out yesterday morning under the watch of police, allowing the owners to secure the premises.
The group had remained there illegally since the end of November and had vowed to stay until it became a free space for the community.
But PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the administrator which owns the former church, wants to sell it and had to get the squatters out to carry out necessary improvements.
There had been fears force would be needed to remove the occupiers, whose numbers reached 100 at the height of the protest.
But it is understood after discussions among themselves, they opted to leave peacefully.
At the site yesterday morning, most protesters were reluctant to speak or be identified. Those who did talk said some of them were homeless and now had nowhere to go, while others would join the Occupy Edinburgh camp at St Andrew Square, even though there is no direct link between the movements.
Bob Shields, 26, from Leith ,has spent the last three weeks with the group taking photographs of them and the building they have occupied.
He said: “A lot of them are bit uncomfortable with the whole legality thing.
“But they’ve all decided to leave peacefully – there were rumblings of resistance but it was decided anything else would probably have been futile.
“There are all kinds of people, some have come through from Glasgow and all over the country and some are going to join Occupy Edinburgh now.
“They’ve had live music on, African drums, and some bands in – people who used to play in the Forest Cafe.”
After Edinburgh University Settlement – which owned the building – went bankrupt, the administrators moved in.
A campaign was launched to raise £100,000, which would allow a mortgage to be acquired and the building to be returned to community ownership.
Volunteers claimed to have raised £47,000 towards that, but it is unclear how much of that money was collected and what would now happen with the proceeds.
Bruce Cartwright, head of business recovery services at PwC in Scotland said: “We are aware that the vacant building at Bristo Place has been illegally occupied and our primary concern has been for the health and safety of the individuals concerned.
“We were obviously keen for them to leave the building as soon as possible as it was not an ideal environment for them to remain in.
“We have continued to liaise with the police in the hope that they would leave of their own volition and I am pleased that as a result of these endeavours, the protesters have left the building.”