Council tax protester jailed for non-payment

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A pensioner who protested against antisocial behaviour and litter in her neighbourhood has been jailed for refusing to pay her council tax.

Josephine Rooney, 69, who once won a Taking a Stand award from the government's Respect campaign, had previously been given a suspended three-month prison sentence and warned she would be locked up if she failed to meet a deadline to pay £798.97 owed to Derby City Council.

The former Eucharistic minister said the council had "failed miserably" to deal with problems such as bad behaviour and disrepair of properties that blighted her street.

Miss Rooney had been given more time to settle her outstanding tax bill after sentencing but she failed to meet a deadline for payment.

"When people are pushed into a corner and their rights are taken away, there comes a time when one has to take drastic action," Miss Rooney said in a statement to District Judge Joanne Alderson at Derby magistrates' court yesterday.

Miss Rooney insisted the council had promised to improve her neighbourhood. She said: "In this regard they have failed miserably in their stated aims and at the same time caused immeasurable distress and hardship to the poorest and most vulnerable residents in our community."

The Labour-run city council denied Miss Rooney's claims, saying measures were already in place to improve the district of Derby where she lives.

The judge told her: "Sadly I have no alternative but to note your wilful refusal to pay and to activate that sentence today."

As guards took the pensioner down, the judge said: "At any stage you can pay the amount outstanding and secure your immediate release."

From the start of her campaign, Miss Rooney had insisted that she was willing to go to jail. "It's daunting, but I feel that I have to take a stand in order to make this council listen to us," she said. "I planned this nearly two years ago when I read about that pensioner down in the West Country, and I wanted to find a way of committing civil disobedience - in the way conscientious objectors do so in South American dictatorships and other parts of the world."

Outside court, her brother, Father Liam Rooney, said: "It's very humiliating to see your sister being handcuffed and taken away from you like that.

"It's not for me to criticise this council but any individual from time to time should be able to challenge an authority on what they find to be unjust."

Derby City Council's deputy leader, Dave Roberts, said: "We are sorry that Miss Rooney has taken this route. Taking people to court is a last resort for the council but we do have a legal duty to collect council tax.

"We don't like to see people jailed for non-payment. We have been carrying out extensive work in the Hartington Street area and we urge Miss Rooney to work with us on her release."