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Kent council fights off JR of caravan removal action

The High Court has rejected a judicial review brought over whether Thanet District Council was right to serve direction notices on people living in caravans at Ramsgate port.

Anthony Elleray QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, concluded in his judgment there were no valid grounds to challenge the council’s actions. The court heard that litigant SO was a female member of the McGinley family of Pavee Travellers. She has lived in a caravan with her mother and siblings since June 2021 on part of an old car park. Thanet part-owns the site, the rest of which is leased from interested party the Crown Estate.

In the autumn of 2021 the council served direction notices under s77 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. SO and various relations had earlier unlawfully occupied a number of local sites and in May 2021 the Magistrates' Court was asked by the council to make an order under s78(1) of the 1994 Act for the removal of their vehicles from a site at Palm Bay.

Magistrates declined because of their concern over children, one unborn and another being treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Thanet proposed temporary accommodation on the port site and the mothers signed code of conduct forms

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They relocated there in June 2021 but two months later the council noted a further six caravans were present without its consent and were housing other family members.

Thanet made a direction that persons residing in such vehicles should leave the site and remove their vehicles and in that November made a further s77 direction which was served on other caravans including that of SO and her mother.

Mr Elleray noted: “The council's strategy had been to distinguish caravans which had no permission to be on site from those of the two families allowed on site on 14 June 2021, although their initial permission to stay for five months had by then run out.”

SO argued the decision to issue the s77 directions was unlawful and irrational. She said that no reasonable council would have served any s77 direction on all occupiers of the site in the circumstances.

She said all occupiers had entered the site with owner’s consent but the council countered that it had only ever allowed the two mothers to stay there.

Mr Elleray said: “It does not appear to me arguable that the council with title to the site could not invoke the procedure begun by the s77 directions.

“It appears to me that given the council were and are the occupier [this] ground is unsustainable on its facts.”

He also rejected a claim that service was not in accordance with s79 of the Act. The fact that a direction was wedged under the caravan step rather than fixed to the vehicle was irrelevant and “I consider that factually wedging the November direction under the step was sufficient and proportionate fixing for s79(2)”, the judge said.

A third ground was alleged unlawful failure to conduct lawful enquiries in concert with Kent County Council in breach of relevant circulars or guidance for there welfare of children.
Thanet said it made an equality impact assessment and made welfare checks.

Mr Elleray said: “I agree with the council that in all the circumstances sufficient, rational and lawful regard was had to the issues arising from the decision made concerning the need to move SO and her subset from the site.”

He concluded: “I do not have arguable grounds to quash the September or November directions. Further I do not consider it arguable that I should order the council to produce a policy for management of unauthorised sites in accordance with the 2004 and 2006 Guidance and Circular 18/94.”

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