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Canary Wharf Investments v Brewer [2018] EWHC 1760 (QB)

In addition to never thinking that it would happen to him and the girl from Clapham, we’d bet good money that Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze never thought that an injunction could be obtained against persons unknown.

However, the case of Canary Wharf Investments v Brewer [2018] EWHC 1760 (QB) shows that this can be achieved in appropriate circumstances.


The owners of the Canary Wharf estate had issued banning notices to five named “urban explorers” who had been entering construction sites on the estate, climbing buildings and cranes and posting photographs and videos of their activities on social media. Despite this, the five named persons, together with other unknown persons, were continuing to enter or threaten to enter the construction sites for this purpose.

The Problem

Where land or buildings are being unlawfully occupied, it is common to obtain a court order for possession against both any occupiers whose identity is known and against “persons unknown”, allowing all occupiers to be evicted from the land or buildings. However, where the occupation is intermittent and the area where the trespass occurs can vary, an injunction is more appropriate to prevent future trespass.

The difficulties in persuading the court to use its discretion to grant an injunction in this case were that there was no evidence that any damage had been or would be caused, and that it was impossible to identify other active urban explorers who had previously trespassed or intended to trespass on the site, making the enforcement of any injunction difficult.

The Decision

The court accepted undertakings not to trespass from four of the named defendants and granted an interim injunction not to trespass against the other named defendant along with “Persons Unknown”.

The court was satisfied that an interim injunction to restrain trespass was appropriate for the following main reasons:

• An injunction can be ordered whether or not the trespass causes damage (see Patel v Smith [1987] 1 WLR 853 at 858)

• There was ample evidence to demonstrate a risk that, unless further trespass was restrained, there would be repeat trespasses on the estate

• There was no issue as to the title to the land or suggestion that those involved had a legal right to enter on the sites; • difficulties with enforcement did not justify refusing an injunction

• The injunction could be suitably framed to ensure that it was a proportionate measure that captured only those who threatened to act unlawfully.

Practical Considerations

As the breach of an injunction can potentially result in a committal to prison, the ability to obtain an injunction against unknown persons could be a useful deterrent for landowners against those who intend to trespass on their land. However, it must be remembered that an injunction is a discretionary remedy based on the facts of a particular case and that a court may be less willing to grant such an injunction where the circumstances differ.

A landowner should always prioritise securing its land against trespassers, in order to avoid the need to obtain an injunction or an order for possession. If an injunction application is necessary, it is still preferable to have identified the trespasser in order to have the best possible chance of obtaining an injunction.

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Autumn 2018

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Danny Revitt