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Farmer who built house behind straw bales given suspended jail sentence

A High Court judge has sentenced a man who refused to demolish a house he built behind straw bales in the Green Belt to three months in prison, suspended for six months.

Following a hearing on 2 and 9 November, Mr Justice Dove ruled that Robert Fidler was in contempt of court in the 11 ways alleged by Reigate & Banstead Council.

The judge rejected his application to vary an injunction order and dismissed various allegations he had made against the local authority. Fidler had also claimed to have sold the property.

The ruling is the latest development in a long-running legal battle between the farmer and the council.

Fidler built the house, with a mock Tudor façade and castellated towers, in 2000. He removed the straw bales in 2006 but was issued with an enforcement notice by the council the following year. The two sides have been locked in extensive planning appeals, inquiries and litigation ever since.

Reigate & Banstead recently lodged a claim for contempt of court over Fidler's failure to comply with outstanding enforcement notices and the injunction order in effect as a result of the Communities Secretary’s decision effectively requiring demolition of the unauthorised house and associated structures at Honeycrock Farm in Salfords.

A spokesman for the local authority said: “We are pleased that the judge agreed with our case in full. Today’s judgment provides the best chance of Mr Fidler’s compliance with all of the outstanding enforcement notices, which is what we have always sought. We’re also pleased that the judge wholly rejected the allegations Mr Fidler made against the council and its staff.

“Today the judge concluded that Mr Fidler had intentionally defied the High Court’s injunction order, despite having consented to the terms of the order and knowing the consequences if he failed to meet them.”

The spokesman added: “This is a situation of Mr Fidler’s own making. He has had plenty of opportunity to comply with the outstanding enforcement notices....Mr Fidler can be in no doubt that the judge’s expectation is for the house to be demolished and all the enforcement notices be complied with in their entirety before 6 June 2016.”

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