Traveller loses appeal against flat


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The Independent Online

An Irish traveller forced to leave an illegal site failed to persuade senior judges today that a local authority should be obliged to re-home him in a caravan.

John Sheridan, 34, said he had an "aversion to bricks and mortar accommodation" and a psychiatrist concluded that forcing him to live in a one-bedroom flat in Basildon, Essex, "could amount to a death sentence".

But the Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Sheridan's challenge and said Basildon Borough Council had not acted unreasonably or unlawfully in offering the flat.

A council review panel and a county court judge had earlier also ruled against Mr Sheridan, who was living on an unauthorised traveller site at Dale Farm, near Basildon.

Appeal judges heard that Mr Sheridan had a "number of medical and psychiatric problems", a history of excessive drinking and was prone to depression.

His mood would "deteriorate" and he would "become deeply depressed" if forced to move to "bricks and mortar accommodation", psychiatrist Mark Slater had told them.

"He has stated that he would become suicidal and he told me that he would 'drink himself to death'," said Dr Slater.

"Overall, I believe that there would be a significant risk of Mr Sheridan suffering psychiatric harm if he was forced to accept the accommodation proposed by the council.

"I do not think it would be overstating it to say that it could amount to a death sentence for him."

But appeal judges Sir Andrew Morritt, the Chancellor of the High Court, Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Pitchford ruled in the council's favour and dismissed Mr Sheridan's appeal.

Lord Justice Patten said in a written ruling - handed down today after a hearing in London in February - that the council had not been "unreasonable", interfered with Mr Sheridan's human rights or made any "error of law".

Council officials had said no traveller plots were available in Essex - and Lord Justice Patten said there was "really no evidence" to support an argument that "possible sites" existed.

He said a local authority could not be required to acquire land as part of a duty to provide accommodation for homeless people.

The council said local health services could deal with Mr Sheridan's "pyschiatric" problems - and Lord Justice Patten said that approach was "not unreasonable".

Judges dismissed similar appeals by Mr Sheridan's estranged wife, Barbara, who looked after the couple's three children, and traveller Mary Flynn.

They said all three travellers had lived at Dale Farm and were eligible for "housing assistance" because they were "not intentionally homeless" and were in "priority need".

Council leader Tony Ball said: "I welcome the decision of the court today, which vindicates the council's offer of bricks and mortar as one that was appropriate. It will also be welcomed by many local people.

"The principles of upholding the law while at the same time treating the travellers appropriately and fairly have been at the heart of this council's approach throughout our dealings with the former Dale Farm community and other travellers.

"We will now continue to work with the traveller community across our borough to address their housing needs where appropriate and possible.

"We appeal to them to engage with us through due process and obey the law. And we continue to appeal to families or individuals who genuinely have nowhere else to go and who we may be in a position to help to get in touch with us."

A spokeswoman for the Traveller Solidarity Network described today's ruling as "disgraceful" and said it "opens the door to the complete destruction of the travelling way of life".

Mary Sheridan, who also used to live on the illegal Dale Farm site, added: "This is terrible news - not just for us, but for travellers everywhere. The law in the UK wants to destroy the traveller way of life."

The illegal Dale Farm site was cleared after the Court of Appeal backed Basildon Council's decision to enforce eviction notices at a hearing in London in October.

Traveller Solidarity Network officials said more than 80 families "displaced" from Dale Farm had registered as homeless and wanted "a pitch for their mobile homes and not a council house or flat".