Frustration drove pensioner to seek a higher authority

You need determination to challenge the system. Stephen Ward reports
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In 1989, John Bryan, a retired scrap metal dealer, built two barns near his home in Higher Whitley, a commuter suburb of Manchester, copying the vernacular style of traditional Cheshire barns.

Agricultural buildings need no planning permission, but Vale Royal Borough Council thought Mr Bryan's development looked suspiciously like a housing estate and ordered him to pull the buildings down. In October 1990 he lost an appeal at a public inquiry.

"I went to a High Court judge and he said, 'I can't give you a judicial hearing because the inquiry inspector's more or less God'.

"I said I'm taking them to the European Court - there must be some law somewhere. And then we found it, my barristers. Article Six, paragraph one, which says every man is entitled to a judicial hearing about his person or his property. That's the one I took 'em on.

"We had to exhaust our domestic remedies. Then you submit your application to Strasbourg, which is sat on by 16 judges to see if you've got admissability. I went, and my two barristers."

This first hearing, in October 1993, decided whether the case was admissible, and took about two and a half hours. "I didn't have to speak. They asked a lot of questions, my barrister answered them all. There's no cross-questioning of any barristers or any clients. You just state your case as best you can, then they decide."

The second hearing was in March 1994, to examine the merits of the case.

"It was held in another big building just across the road from the first. They had a great big horseshoe-shaped table, sixteen judges round it with interpreters, some of the judges had headphones on.

"If you'd have read the way the Government put the case you'd think I was the villain, not them. But my barrister said not to say sorry, we would win when we got to the final hearing.

"There's none of this bullshit like you have in English courts. It's straightforward. I always say you should judge each case on its merits, not on what a judge decided 200 or 100 years ago."

Mr Bryan has had to pay his own legal bills for the action, running to six figures, but it will have been worth it if he wins. "I started off working when I was eight, and I'm nearly 65 now. I've had a prosperous business, worked hard and long hours but a lot of what I earned has gone on fighting these pin-stripe-suited villains."

If Mr Bryan does win, he will claim pounds 300-400,000 for legal costs, and the cost of new barns. "This'll turn the English planning system upside down,' he said, as he waited for a full European Court date to be set later this year.