The company that owned the burnt-down warehouse in the Gorg district of Badalona chose not to report the people who were illegally occupying the premises for "humanitarian" reasons, since they understood that without any dignified alternative housing to live in, if they had been expelled, their situation would have been even worse. In a statement issued by a Barcelona law firm, the owners explained that they "knew" some of the people who entered the premises "without consent" on a date they did not specify, and said that for some time they tried to get them to leave "voluntarily" because they considered it "not a suitable place to live". They add, however, that they finally gave up and ended up accepting the squatters because the only way out that the Mossos d'Esquadra (the Catalan police) gave them was to file a "complaint".
The mayor of Badalona, Xavier García Albiol, has accused them of having consented to the occupation. The PP politician has assured that as soon as he returned as mayor for his second term, in June 2019, he requested the owners to "restore legality", but after four months without a response, the City Council initiated a legal process in November in order for the owners to change the warehouse qualification from "industrial" to "housing". He also reported that he will claim the cost of demolishing the warehouse to the owner company and that, for now, the council will advance the payments.
The owner, however, has assured that the only sanctioning file of which they are aware of is for a delay in the payment of certain municipal taxes, and has underlined the unsuccessful efforts to get the public administration to take care of the people who lived in the warehouse, most of them sub-Saharans immigrants. The City Council of Badalona "was aware of the humanitarian situation" that took place inside the warehouse, the statement stresses, to the extent that social services acted but neither the council "nor the property" were able to "find a solution for this group".
The statement avoids specifying the name of the company and only refers to the fact that there are different investors and that they wanted to use the warehouse to set up a business or a logistics warehouse but that with the financial crisis of 2008 that of the coronavirus, it was impossible to start any projects. The newspaper El Periódico advanced in its digital edition yesterday that the warehouse belongs to Antonio Medianero and Xavi Fernandez, former Joventud de Badalona and FC Barcelona basketball and football players.
Meanwhile, the City of Badalona has launched an emergency tender with four specialized companies to start on Friday the demolition of the warehouse that burned on Wednesday night. The companies will have to submit their bids in the early afternoon and, as explained by the mayor of the municipality, Xavier Garcia Albiol, the demolition will begin in the north wing. It is an area to which the Police and Firefighters could not access, and that is why Albiol said he does not know if "there will be more bodies in the rubble" that will increase the current balance of three fatalities from the fire.
According to the mayor's version, the warehouse was occupied since 2008 and there was "no problem" until 2017, just the year that Albiol lost the mayor's office. On the contrary, if there had been conflicts during his first term, the mayor has insinuated that he would not have hesitated to act. "Between 2011 and 2015 we vacated 325 conflicting houses", he said. However, in October 2017, the first complaint came from the residents, who condemned "problems of public order or that minors were living there", in the words of Albiol, who appeared before the press, displaying neighbourhood complaints and police interventions, which even beared his signature.
Albiol has also denied that the City Council asked for the water to be cut off in the burnt-out building, as some of the survivors of the fire have reported, claiming that the council has no jurisdiction: "If someone has cut it off, it has not been the City Council, we have not given the instruction". The mayor of Badalona has reported that there is another occupied building in the same street where there are people living in the same vulnerable conditions. "Either the town halls will be allowed to act or this evening or next month, or the same tragedy will happen again", he warned.
In this sense, the company's statement regrets that the owners are "defenseless in situations of occupation" but points out that if they had continued with the forced eviction they would not have contributed to ending a situation of vulnerability because the occupants would have "moved" to another building to occupy it, in an endless circle.
The mayor also reported that the municipal social services have attended to 104 people after the fire. Of these, a large group were able to relocate to the homes of friends and acquaintances, while 40 were offered to spend the night in a hostel, but in the end only 16 accepted the proposal. "Only those with residency permits and who were not afraid of the police went", one of the survivors explained.