Council tax rebel Sylvia, 73, jailed

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The Independent Online

Sylvia Hardy, 73, from Exeter, Devon, failed to pay her arrears of £53.71 in council tax from last year - plus £10 costs - and was in breach of a 56-day suspended committal order.

Jailing her for seven days at Exeter Magistrates' Court, the chairman Louis Crowden said: "If everyone paid their debts on the basis of what they thought appropriate this country would descend into anarchy. You have been given every chance to pay and have wilfully refused to do so."

The chairman said they had no choice but to commit Ms Hardy to prison for seven days, telling her: "You may think you are a martyr but you are not."

As Ms Hardy, from Barrack Road, Exeter, was led away the chairman of Devon Pensioners' Action Forum, Albert Venison, shouted at the bench: "You are on a completely different planet you people."

There were other shouts of "pompous ass" and "shame" from other supporters of Ms Hardy who were packed into the small courtroom.

Ms Hardy marched to the court from her home accompanied by banner-waving supporters, and was greeted by a huge crowd of other backers before she went in to face the magistrates.

She was told that a telephone offer of payment for her outstanding arrears had been made, but she politely refused it.

In court the clerk, Paul Vincent, asked her whether she intended to pay the outstanding amount today or at any time, and Ms Hardy replied: "No."

Prosecutor Kevin Hughes told the magistrates: "She has made it clear to the council she has no intention of paying the £63.71. We are here to ask you to consider whether she should go to prison for seven days."

Ms Hardy, who refused an offer to speak to the court's duty solicitor, told the court: "I made a decision to withhold part of the council tax demanded by Devon County Council because the increases during the past 10 years have risen by 50 per cent.

"In one year alone the increase was 18.5 per cent and in another 10 per cent. My occupational pension increases by only 1.7 per cent a year and the inflation rate by between one per cent and three per cent.

"On top of this tax, we are required to pay the highest water rate in the country, plus ever-increasing payments for gas, electricity, telephone, etc, well above the inflation rate."

She said incomes for the majority in the South West fell far behind these demands, and people were losing the ability to have any kind of quality of life.

"Undoubtedly this is totally unfair and has got to stop," said Ms Hardy.

She told the court: "Letters and lobbying to MPs and councillors have fallen on deaf ears and all that is left is to take direct action, whatever the consequences.

"Throughout history, people have fought to change laws which are unjust, and often the only way to do this is to break the law or ignore it and to accept the punishment.

"That is why I am appearing here today to accept my punishment for desperately trying to salvage my ever-reducing quality of life.

"We are trying to bring home to central government and local government that if something is not done very soon to put right the many injustices the people of this country have to suffer year on year, the normally docile English people will say enough is enough and will all gather together in mass civil disobedience."

Ms Hardy said she had sensed for some time the anger which was in evidence in the community, adding: "I feel that an uprising is not far away."

She said: "If the sacrifice of my liberty for seven days does anything to force politicians to begin to serve those who elected them to office, it will be worthwhile."

Ms Hardy said those with incomes just above the cut-off point for means-tested handouts were being subjected to discrimination and this was "totally, totally unfair".

She continued: "Even now there are several pensioners in other parts of the country who are already in prison or about to be committed because of the obscene council tax demands.

"Many people believe that this tax is daylight robbery, so why are we victims rather than the perpetrators being sent to prison?"

She called on all councils throughout the UK to "grasp the nettle and tell the Government that you will stop providing the expensive services, such as education, unless sufficient sums are made available, and stop leaving it to the oppressed taxpayers to do your jobs for you".

Ms Hardy's supporters were planning to travel in a convoy of cars to the prison in which she will serve her sentence to demonstrate outside in a show of support.

Tomorrow morning a band of Ms Hardy's supporters will hold a vigil outside Exeter Cathedral, and will do so every day until she is released from prison.

Ms Hardy left behind a comfortable two-bedroomed top-floor flat with distant views to the sea and across the city.

Before she went into court today, she said she believed the stance of the tax rebels had played a part in the Government's decision to shelve the re-evaluation of the council tax system.

A few days ago she visited retired vicar Alfred Ridley, 71, from Towcester, Northants, after he became the first council tax rebel to be jailed for refusing to pay arrears.