SQUATTERS have occupied the former EMD cinema building in Walthamstow and allegedly caused widespread damage.

According to campaigners from the McGuffin Film Society, part of the listed structure, in Hoe Street, has been damaged by flooding, while windows have been broken and there is also some graffiti.

They moved in on Thursday (February 17) but have apparently said they will leave today (Monday).

The group also tried to hold a rave on Saturday night (February 19) but it was stopped by police.

The building was closed as a cinema in 2003 after it was bought by religious group the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).

It has remained empty ever since.

Waltham Forest Council is currently considering a planning application by UCKG to convert it into a church.

McGuffin Film Society coordinator Bill Hodgson said: "I was able to inspect the EMD interior over the weekend at the invitation of the squatters. There is currently a great deal of superficial damage such as graffiti and broken windows.

"Much more worrying were the indications of long-term water damage which has caused flooding in the main auditorium and some obvious damage to the ceilings.

"It is clear UCKG has failed in their legal responsibility to properly maintain this listed building and this incident has exposed the woeful inadequacy of their security measures.

"It is time for the council to consider issuing an Urgent Repairs Notice so this situation can be remedied as swiftly as possible".

A spokeswoman for UCKG hit back at the claims and said it had spend more than £100,000 on works to protect the building since 2003.

She said: "Prior to this break-in the building was secure and was subject to surveillance. It is being guarded on a 24/7 basis while the owner pursues the quickest possible legal solution to evict the squatters."

She added: “We are very concerned for the occupants as there is asbestos in the building and no one is allowed to enter on legitimate business without the necessary health and safety approval.

"In their own best interests we would urge the squatters to leave immediately.”

A police spokeswoman said officers were called at around 10pm on Saturday.

She said: "Police attended on a number of occasions throughout the night to monitor and to prevent further people from entering.

"No offences were committed and no injuries reported.

Caramel Quin, chair of Cleveland Park Residents’ Association, was part of a crowd of people who turned up to try and stop the rave.

She praised Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and council leader Chris Robbins who also turned up to help.

She said: "she [Ms Creasy] and Chris did a great job of getting council officers and police to act fast and smart. Council workers used vans to block the entrances to the Arcade site which meant no more vans could get in.

"Police manned the front of the cinema and, once they had permission to do so, began stopping more people from entering. The council’s noise team arrived and served a legal notice against loud music."

She added: "It’s clear that, together with great work from police and council officers, we averted a massive rave that would have damaged the cinema more."

Ms Quin added that she hoped Ms Creasy and Mr Robbins would now "work with the community to secure the future of the EMD – to force the UCKG church to repair the cinema and to support plans to restore it as a cinema/arts venue."

Stella Creasy said: "All I had to go on was the Locum report last July which said that it was in a reasonably good condition. It was the first time I'd be inside for eight years and so I was shocked at the damage.

"I've alerted English Heritage, the church and the council - the state of the building is extremely concerning and needs to be rectified urgently."

Ms Creasy refused to be drawn on whether she agreed with council leader Chris Robbins that ideally a new cinema should be built on the adjacent Arcade site.

She said: "It's only been 24 hours since we were made aware of the state of the building and my focus is that and how we can stop it deteriorating any further."

A council spokesman said officers were investigating reports of damage.

He added: "An urgent works notice will be issued if need be."

Meanwhile a petition calling for the council to refuse UCKG's planning application has topped 1,600 signatures.

Click here to follow the Waltham Forest Guardian on Twitter