SQUATTERS who have taken over a council building have been accused of terrorising shopkeepers and residents.
An estimated 20 people have been living in the former Barnardo's building at 170 Sanderstead Road for nearly a month.
The men and women are said to have been stealing from local shops and making a racket at all hours.
One nearby resident – who asked not to be named – said: "One neighbour was meant to go away but she is too afraid now of getting burgled to leave the house. She has put wire across her door to keep it shut.
"All I want to do is see the back of them."
Squatting was made illegal last year, but the squatters have posted notices in the cracked windows of the two-storey building saying those regulations do not apply because the building is not residential.
A council spokesman said on Tuesday it had instructed lawyers to seek a possession order in the courts.
He added that the council had been "dealing with the situation" since the squatters moved in before Christmas.
Ben Selvaratnam, who owns the Wine Cellar shop opposite the house, said the squatters – who looked to be in their 20s – had targeted the store numerous times.
The first instance was "about three weeks ago" when they stole a bread and milk trolley delivery in a cage outside, he said.
Mr Selvaratnam added: "It was about £80 worth. They cut through the chains and took it down into the house. That was at about 4.30am.
"After that we had a couple of times where they came into the shop and stole bottles of beer. We went down after them but they ran off.
"Another time they took a tray of vegetables and we caught them – they were running off and we chased them and caught them.
"We got the vegetables and they ran into the house."
He added: "The police viewed the CCTV. We said we could go into the house and ID the culprits but they said they were afraid of what might happen."
The nearby resident said one man from the house had a "souped-up" car that he would rev up during the middle of the night.
She added: "They also seem to be keeping [frozen] chickens in the window round the other side.
"As far as we know they have got no heating, but they must have some cooking equipment.
"They have a clear-up sometimes to prove they are keeping it tidy."
The building, which children's charity Barnardo's left more than a year ago, is due to be used by Croydon Council for its tuition service and primary pupil referral unit, for children aged between 8 and 11.
The council said it hopes to open the facility by November 2013.
Its spokesman added: "As soon as we became aware of the presence of squatters we commenced legal proceedings to have them evicted.
"This will allow us to proceed with our plans for the early reuse of the property for education purposes."
No one answered the door or windows of the property on Monday evening, despite music playing inside and the lights being on. The area outside the back door smelled strongly of urine. The Croham Safer Neighbourhoods Team can be reached at the central police station on Park Lane in Croydon, or by calling 020 8721 2471 or 07920 233888, or emailing Croham.firstname.lastname@example.org