Farmer jailed for hiding house under ground

Planning battle: High Court told demolition order was flouted and council officer was fooled when home was grassed over
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Trevor Sedgbeer, who buried his house under a mound of earth in an attempt to circumvent planning officers, was jailed for three months at the High Court in London yesterday for contempt of a court order to demolish it.

Mr Sedgbeer insisted that by removing the roof and top storey of the house at Stoke Gabriel, near Totnes in Devon, he had complied with an order to reduce it to the original ground level.

But Mr Justice Sachs said that the farmer had been shown considerable indulgence by the courts and South Hams District Council, and "the time has now come ... for me to commit him to prison for three months".

Mr Sedgbeer, 47, said: "I don't regret what I did. It just shows what I have said all along - the courts are always on the side of the council."

He said he and his wife, Loretta, had spent more than pounds 2,000 fighting to overturn the council's refusal of planning permission and said he would be appealing against the jail sentence.

Mr Sedgbeer said that the house was at present a "kennel for the dogs". He and his family were living in Paignton.

Geoffrey Stephenson, counsel for the local authority, had told the judge that in January 1990 the council issued an enforcement notice requiring removal of the building to ground level because it was built without consent. Back-dated consent was refused and in January 1993 Mr Sedgbeer was fined pounds 300 for breach of the enforcement notice.

His continued refusal to pull down the house led to a series of High Court hearings at which he was given more time to demolish, culminating on 21 April this year in a three-month jail order, suspended as long as he got rid of the building by 8 May.

On 9 May, a council enforcement officer, Michael Huxtable, visited the site and found a mound of earth and salvage materials, but no sign of the house. He was convinced the house had been demolished. However, in October, he revisited the site and discovered that the mound of earth covered the ground floor of the house.

"Mr Sedgbeer had simply knocked off the top storey, left it as a bungalow, put soil on top and grassed it over," Mr Stephenson said. He accused Mr Sedgbeer of "overt defiance" of the planning system, the local authority and court orders and said he had engaged upon a "deliberate deception" of the council and the court.

In a written statement, Mr Sedgbeer said he and his wife had owned the land for 22 years and lived on it for many years, with permission, in a mobile home. The house was originally a cow barn, he said, adding that three other barns in the locality had been given consent for conversion.

Representing himself in court, he told the judge the mound of earth coincided with the original ground level before construction and as far as he was concerned he had complied with the enforcement notice.

But the judge said this was obviously not true. In any case, he said, the latest court order required Mr Sedgbeer to demolish the whole building.

Mr Sedgbeer, who told the judge that he was "skint", was ordered to pay legal costs.