SQUATTERS who have moved into an empty police station say they are simply providing shelter for the homeless.

The group of about 20 men and women have moved into the building in Leytonstone High Road, which has not been used since it closed three years ago.

Waltham Forest Police have confirmed it has started a legal bid to evict the squatters, but a spokesman admitted it is not known how long the process will take.

One of the squatters, who refused to give his name and let the Guardian into the building, said: “We're providing a home for people that are homeless.

“We've got about 20 people living here but we're not exactly overcrowding the rooms.

“We're here side by side with no rules as such, but values. It's just a group of people looking for a home.

“But at the end of the day there's a lot less going on in here than when this used to be a police station.”

One woman, who also refused to be named, said: “We haven't heard anything from the police, we didn't know they had started legal proceedings.”

More than 10,000 local residents signed a petition against the station closure.

Staff were moved to Kirkdale Road in a move to “centralise” resources.

But the area has become synonymous with gang activity, with two recent non-fatal shootings and a number of stabbings.

There was a mixed reaction to the squatters from people living and working nearby.

Christine Whitbread, 56, lives in a flat overlooking the backyard of the station.

She said: “I want them to go. They've got at least three dogs which bark at all times, and they've been coming back really late at night and climbing on the walls.

“We don't need all that round here. It's bad enough with the drugs and the violence in Leytonstone.

“I feel sorry for them if they haven't got a home but if they need a home they should go to the council like everyone else.”

Michelle Olley, a barmaid at The Bell pub next door, said: “They haven't been any trouble. They've come in asking for clean water but we said no because we didn't want to encourage them.

“The electricity has always been on in that place so they seem pretty comfortable.

A police spokeswoman said: “The squatters are being evicted in accordance with legal process.”

Estate agent Strettons is currently trying to sell the building on behalf of the police.

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