LEWISHAM Council has been accused of 'gestapo' tactics on Europe's last remaining prefab estate, which is fast becoming a dumping ground and crime hotspot.

The redevelopment of Catford's 1940s Excalibur estate - which will eventually see 180 homes knocked down and replaced - has seen some tenants fight tooth and nail to keep their cherished properties.

Last year, permission was granted for the London and Quadrant housing association's plans after a 2010 ballot showed 56 per cent of people supported it.

But tenants now claim they are being bullied out years before redevelopment while those who stay put suffer increased vandalism of vacant, boarded-up homes.

James Solway, 51, from the estate's tenants' committee, said: "We thought they'd be tearing down the buildings now but it's not happening.

"It's been a mass eviction of people living on the estate without actually saying so. They want the whole place empty."

Excalibur is being redeveloped in five phases, with people moving out allowed to return once the estate is rebuilt.

Mr Solway said people thought the first phases of demolition would start this year, while notices put up around the affected properties only promise demolition by 2017. Lewisham Council said it could start early next year.

Doreen Ellis, 86, has lived on Baudwin Road for 17 years and is one of the last remaining people living in what she describes as "a filthy hole" with frequent flytipping and even a dead cat being flung into her garden.

She said: "The council think they're the gestapo coming over here. They say I'll be taken to court if I don't hurry up and move."

Mr Solway said: "We want to leave on our terms, and have time to choose if we can, our new home as well as its location, during the next five years without overriding other more needy people that are on the waiting list for their first."

A Lewisham Council spokeswoman said: "The council and L&Q are working hard with residents, talking to them about their preferences and housing needs so that we can offer them a new home, be it back on the new estate, or living in another area of their choice.

"There is a dedicated Decant Officer assigned to each household talking to them about their preferences and housing needs. For freeholders, the Council is paying for the services of an independent surveyor and solicitor.

"Residents are being given all information available to enable them to make the best choice for themselves and so far we have been able to do this via negotiation.

"However, the regeneration of the estate must go ahead and if necessary, the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders may need to be brought in so that there are not unnecessary delays to the programme.  This is always used as a very last resort."

Crime on the up

Jerry Hynes, 62, says residents have had to install their own CCTV cameras to catch people causing problems on the estate.

He and others regularly patrol the area at night, often catching squatters, drug takers and street drinkers.

In the space of just one week in August, they reported drugs dealing, two break-ins to strip metal from vacant properties and five instances of fly-tipping.

But they claim when flytipping is reported, the council is slow to clear it up. Elsewhere, windows have been smashed and buildings set on fire.

Mr Solway said: "If Lewisham Council was a tenant they'd be in breach of their tenancy."

A spokeswoman said the council was working with residents to combat anti-social behaviour on the estate.