Case study 27: Council seized woman’s ‘house van’ when she failed to comply with CPN

(Statement from CPN recipient). ‘My late husband purchased a site with 12th-century church ruins in the late 2000s. The site had been long neglected by the previous private owner due to his ill health and local bureaucracy blocking his plans for it. My husband had decades of experience in historic buildings, and he worked on the site for over a decade, with three grants from Historic England.

After my husband’s death, I continued to live and work on the site. The lorry (house-van) and caravan were acting as my home, while I worked on the site both as project manager and caretaker. The lorry was rateable and I paid council tax upon it.

During the covid pandemic, I left the site to live on a friend’s property, intending to return when it was all over: for health reasons it was necessary for me to shield.

However, some local council officers took advantage of my absence to issue me with a CPN, ordering me to clear the site and remove all my items from the site (including lorry, caravan, and other outdoor items). It claimed that I was unable to care for the site, despite me making it clear that I had a 100-year plan for the site.

When I did not remove these items, the council decided that there was a breach of CPN, and that it had rights under the Anti Social Behaviour, Police and Crime Act 2014 to seize my home and property. It did not go to court or obtain any formal seizure order.

The council used a large tracked vehicle to remove the truck and caravan, damaging both in the process. The council also removed the metal gate which prevented vehicle access, which included the posts and a small amount of fencing either side. It pulled the posts and gate out with the digger. The tracked vehicle caused a fall of masonry at the old church. When they left, they damaged trees on the lane and dug a three-foot trench across the top of the lane, thus preventing vehicle access to my property.

Both of these seized vehicles were dry and functional. The house van and caravan were both significantly damaged during the removal process.

The Council organised for all my external property, including the gate and gate posts, to be immediately destroyed. No inventory was prepared. These items were ‘disappeared’ before my case for breach of the Community Protection Notice (CPN) was heard. There were no items for the council to return regardless of the outcome of the case.

The council stored my lorry on an open-air forecourt; they made no attempt to keep it weather proof, leading to a large hole in the roof allowing water to enter. The council refused to repair and return the vehicle. After a year of negotiating the house-van was removed to a local garage where it was ‘re-used’. The caravan was damaged beyond repair so was professionally recycled.

The house-van was made uninhabitable by the presence of mould and damp inside the vehicle – a situation the council should have been aware would aggravate my permanent lung damage from ‘farmers lung’.

At the criminal trial for CPN breach, it was found that the CPN was not lawfully issued, and the council was therefore not allowed to present the evidence of breach.

Through FOI requests, I obtained an email from a council officer, in which he stated his intentions to ‘re-issue the CPN to get the site cleared’, and that if I failed to comply ‘the LA can then carry out works on site and place a charge over the property…’.

The council’s actions were instigated by four complainants, some connected to the parish council who wanted to acquire the site. The personal agendas of the four complainants who initiated the community trigger action were not fairly, fully or competently assessed.

The council made an unqualified accusation that there has been a failure to maintain the ruined tower. I have a degree in geology and environmental biology, and personally I do not believe that work on the tower is viable. For a decade I showed members of the public around the site, to ensure that they were not put at risk. Now the removal of the gate means a danger to the public from falling masonry.

I estimate that this case has cost the council £20,000.

The council refused to pay compensation so I filed a claim against them. A confidential settlement was agreed. If I was in better health and could have afforded legal representation, I would have proceeded further with the claim. I feel I have secured a victory against all odds, but not addressed the injustice of the case.’