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Old 19-12-15, 19:03   #1
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Oh Crap! PHOTOs-Demolish Your English Castle OR >Go To Jail

Farmer Who Hid His Illegally Built Castle Behind a Haystack is Told He'll Be Jailed Unless He Knocks it Down Despite Claiming it Should Stay Because it's Now Home to Protected Bats and Newts

  • Robert Fidler built mock-Tudor castle in 2000 and hid it behind a haystack
  • Council found home was built without permission and ordered demolition
  • 67-year-old now claims it is home to protected bats and newts, court heard
  • Mr Fidler told he faces three-month jail-term unless house is gone by June
Daily Mail UK, 19 December 2015

A farmer who hid an illegally built luxury castle behind a haystack has been told he faces jail unless he knocks it down after a judge rejected his claims that the house cannot be demolished because it is home to protected bats and newts.

Robert Fidler, 67 (pictured outside the High Court in London), who hid his mock-Tudor property in Salfords, Surrey, from the council behind a giant wall of straw, has been told he faces a three-month jail sentence if he does not demolish the home by June

Robert Fidler, 67, hid his mock-Tudor property in Salfords, Surrey, from the council behind a giant wall of straw for years but has now been warned he faces a three-month prison sentence for his 'intentional defiance' unless he pulls it down by June 6 next year.

He had earlier tried to argue against a court injunction ordering the property's demolition, claiming he would be breaking European laws by knocking down the house without establishing the potential impact on 'roosting' bats currently living at the property.

Giving evidence at the High Court in London, he said an ecological survey conducted in June established the presence of bats and newts around the property, earmarking it as an 'ideal' habitat.

And he claimed he was now no longer the owner of the property, having sold it to a buyer earlier this year who granted him temporary 'asylum'.

However, Mr Justice Dove rejected his pleas that the presence of bats in the roof and the Great Crested newt in the property's ponds had stopped his plans to demolish it.

The judge also rejected his plea that he had sold the property and was now a trespasser on the land - ruling the contract of the sale was not legally binding.
And his claims that council officials were 'deceitful' and guilty of 'blackmail' in dealing with him were no grounds for not complying with the court order to demolish the house, the judge ruled.

The farmer had hoped that by concealing the house at Honeycrock Farm he could exploit a loophole that meant if a construction was uncontested for four years, authorities could not touch it.

The main features of the four-bedroom property include a stained-glass dome above the stairwell, cannons, battlements and wooden beams. It is believed it would be worth 1million without the legal case hanging over it.

Mr Fidler had argued that the reason he built the property in 2000 was because planning authority in Surrey failed to acknowledge an application to convert an existing property for nine years.

His family moved into the home in 2002 but it was later discovered by Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, which ordered its demolition in 2007.

The Planning Inspectorate dismissed his appeals, but last November he was granted temporary planning permission for a maximum of three years. However, former Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles later withdrew this.

Mr Fidler, who represented himself in court, claimed today that the council was out to 'destroy' his life and that its case was based 'on lies and deception'.
He said his attempt to demolish the house was thwarted by the presence of bats and newts and that he had sold the property so it was no longer his responsibility.

The council had ruled out allowing the castle to stay because it breached national and local planning rules designed to protect the green belt.

Its counsel, Stephen Whale, said Mr Fidler had deceived the authority for many years and had treated the planning system and the court with contempt.

A judge ordered that Mr Fidler, 67, (pictured outside the four-bedroom home) knock down the mock-Tudor house he built in Surrey without planning permission but he now claims it is home to protected bats and newts

Mr Fidler, 67, hid the property from the council behind a giant mountain of straw bails, blue tarpaulin and tyres (above) from 2002 until 2006. When the council discovered the home in 2007, he was ordered to knock it down

After listening to the case, the judge said Mr Fidler was an 'intelligent and determined' man, but said that intelligence and determination had led him to his 'intentional defiance' of the orders of the court.
He was satisfied that there had been 11 intentional breaches which deserved a prison sentence of three months.

But bearing in mind the objective was to get the property demolished for breaking planning laws, he said he would suspend the sentence until June next year to give him time.
He made it clear that if the property was still standing in seven months' time, he would not only jail Mr Fidler for three months but also consider a further sentence for his further contempt.

He also ordered the farmer to pay the council's legal costs, estimated in the region of 50,000.

The judge rejected the application by Mr Fidler to vary the order pending further applications to build somewhere on the farm for him to live in, despite his claims he needs to live on the farm to look after his herd of 120 cattle and was in a 'desperate situation.'

Finally, the judge dismissed Mr Fidler's claims that Reigate and Banstead Borough Council had pursued a 'dishonourable' case against him.
He said:

'I am entirely satisfied that the defendant knew what was required by the order, and the mistake he has made is confusing his disagreement and difficulties with the council with the requirements of this court as to what must now be done in order to achieve a legal outcome.
'Whatever may have been his difficulties with the council, the focus of his responsibilities had to be to comply with the order he had consented to and which was made by this court.
'What this defendant has done is a defiance of that order.'

Justice Dove said Mr Fidler's actions 'merited' the conclusion he is in contempt of court.

Mr Fidler now has until 6 June next year to fully comply with the order, otherwise his suspended sentence will be activated and he will be found in contempt of court for a second time.

'I hope that you have gathered I will not take kindly to giving you this opportunity and finding some more contrived or lame excuses have been found for non-compliance,' Justice Dove said.

Mr Fidler's wife was in tears at the ruling.
Prior to sentencing, Mr Fidler said he had not done anything unlawful, but just tried to provide 'shelter' for his family.

Mr Fidler secretly constructed the mock-Tudor castle, in Salfords, Surrey, complete with battlements and cannons which he has lived in with his family since 2002, but he has been ordered to demolish it by a court

Features of the four-bedroom mock-Tudor castle include weathered brick and stone, carved wooden pillars and beams, and a stained-glass dome above the stairwell. It is thought the home is worth about 1million

The council said the case had so far cost 50,000 to take through the legal process but said it had to take Mr Fidler to court after he refused to comply with court orders and an injunction.

Prior to the ruling, Mr Fidler told the court that he had been unable to demolish the property because he had found protected bats and newts living on the premises.
He told the court:

'What I want to make clear to this court concerning my actions of complying with the order, is that I complied thoroughly until the presence of bats and newts was confirmed.
'I started a demolition process within the 90-day period, but came across what I can only understand to be a criminal matter.'

Explaining the statute, which he came across on www.bats.org.uk, Mr Fidler explained:

'This is, apparently, a European law, which is over and above any English or local authority statute or rule.

'I understand from the website that if there were any endangered species threatened by actions of either demolishing the building or the garden wall, that it was a very serious offence.'

Mr Fidler said the survey established the property had 'all the ideal things where bats are likely to be foraging.'
Further surveys, which could take many months, would be required to ascertain at what times the bats roost. It added that the 'prime bat habitat' could be impacted by any demolition process.

He claimed he had written to the council but planning officers had failed to respond, and accused the authority of having 'no interest at all in its responsibilities to wildlife'.

'They did absolutely nothing, even when I told them I had found the problem,' he added.
'What is more serious, is that whether they acknowledged this survey would take weeks or months, they still applied to this court to put me in prison for not doing something they clearly knew they could not do themselves.

'This is something I can only described as blackmail, saying 'you will go to prison unless you comply with this criminal act.'
'I either go to prison if I do knock it down, or I go to prison if I don't.'

Mr Fidler claimed to the court he had now sold the property to an Indian man, who let him stay remain in the house temporarily but faces eviction.
He said: 'Now I am in an even worse position.

The four-bedroom house, complete with chandeliers, would be worth well in excess of 1million if sold on the open market without the legal wranglings hanging over it. The case at the High Court in London now continues

'Not only is it criminal for me to continue to comply with the notice because of the bat survey and the newts, I have now got an owner who is threatening me with eviction, and who wrote to me putting me on notice I should not touch his property.'

Stephen Wales, for the council, accused Mr Fidler of 'deliberately disobeying the injunction order.'
Mr Fidler denied the allegation, and added: 'I don't have any right to comply with it any more, I'm not the owner. So it's not even relevant.'

He accused the council of 'abusing' its power and said its argument was 'dishonourable, misconstrued, fraudulent' based on a 'pack of lies.'

'My claim is that the council's inaction and lack of response about the bats unfairly placed me into what they believe is a contempt of court - in fact the very thing which the council is now prosecuting me for,' Mr Fiddler said.

He added that this was part of the council's 'morbid desire' to remove him from the property.

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