SQUATTERS sang songs as they gave up control of their Rainbow Peace Hotel today, after 32 days of colourful antics within the eyesore York building.

A dozen occupiers piled furniture, bicycles, cooking equipment and other personal possessions outside the building, the former White Swan Hotel in Piccadilly, to the astonishment of passers-by.

Police officers stood by as bailiffs from York County Court accompanied by a solicitor and locksmith entered the building.

They started to search the premises to make sure nobody remained inside before they changed the locks.

Meanwhile, the squatters sat on top of their belongings and began singing songs.

They said they planned to hold a street sale of their possessions.

Gareth Spydaz, 40, said he was happy the group was leaving peacefully, but hoped the protest had raised the question of responsible building ownership.

He said: "We started off as a peace protest and a peaceful movement, and we are now leaving peacefully with respect for the learned judge's decision.

"We just want to leave and carry on the movement for the benefit of the people of York somewhere else.

"Our disgust has been recognised by York people and hopefully we have kicked the shins of the authorities and the people who own this building.

"If they want to make millions of pounds, that's OK, but let's get on and do something with this property."

Occupiers of the derelict Piccadilly hotel had worked through the night to remove musical instruments, furniture, computers and other personal possessions from the property.

Many of the residents now face homelessness after the building's owners brought the successful legal action to reassert their ownership of the property.

The self-styled "community activists" have focused attention on the four-storey building, which has lain disused for more than 20 years.

Representatives visited Leeds Crown Court yesterday to discuss with a judge whether they could appeal against an earlier court ruling that found their stay to be illegal.

Damien Coleman, 34, said the talks were unsuccessful, but the squatters were content that they had explored every legal channel. He said: "The judge said no matter how sympathetic people were to our cause, the law was as it stands."

The hotel is owned by Reginald Graham and his daughter, Melanie Boyd, who control a £9 million portfolio of property through their company, Graham Family Settled Estates Ltd. Solicitors for the owners had no comment today.

Updated: 10:56 Tuesday, May 20, 2003