Recluse faces eviction from shack: Council order threatens former seaman's rural 'kingdom'. Peter Dunn reports

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The Independent Online
THREE YEARS ago, Tony Parsons tired of globe-trotting and settled down on a railway embankment three miles from where he was born near Cullompton, Devon.

Here, under a canopy of trees, invisible to M5 holiday traffic and rail passengers travelling from Penzance to Paddington, he created Parsons' Kingdom.

He built a shack using boards, plastic sheets and carpets rescued from recycling sites. He cleared an acre of swamp of generations of farmers' junk, creating ponds, flower glades, and a sanctuary for birds and animals.

Using the ingenuity he acquired as an engineer in the merchant navy, he raised a wind generator on a 50ft pole. It charges three car batteries to run his radio, tape recorder and lighting.

Like Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, Mr Parsons sleeps in a barrel; a black plastic cylinder occupying most of the shack with a door in its side.

The barrel serves as shelter and a refuge during his dark moods, usually brought on by 'aggravation' from the outside world.

He used it recently when officialdom put his shack in band E - valued up to pounds 120,000 - for the new council tax. He will be crawling in there again soon when the landowners of Parsons' Kingdom, British Rail, move in to clear him from the site for living there without planning permission.

British Rail, which is acting on instructions from Mid- Devon District Council, is unhappy about calling in the bailiffs. 'Basically he just wants to be away from everybody,' a BR spokesman said. 'We were hoping to let him stay but the council's decided to serve an enforcement notice on us. We're talking with his doctor and social worker to try to smooth the way with regards to this legal nonsense.'

Even George Cornish, his local councillor, is sorry about the eviction but thinks New Age travellers might be encouraged to park where they please if Mr Parsons is not made an example of. 'I personally wouldn't want to see the poor guy removed but you can't have one law for one person and one for everyone else.'

Mr Parsons, a brisk, obsessively neat man of 48, welcomed us last week to his compound with its fence of old washing machine tubs filled with soil. He showed us his vegetarian's larder of oyster mushrooms, the moorhen's nest with eight eggs, the wild ducklings protected from foxes in a cage of zebra finches. 'They'll come here with the police and knock my cabin down and chuck me off,' he said. 'It's their land and I'm in the wrong. OK, I'm a trespasser but I've a right to have somewhere to live and to work. I don't want to be in a town, sitting in the coffee shops and no one interested in me. Next thing I'll be sleeping on the streets.

'I had a lot of psychiatric treatment in hospital, on drugs for six months with silly nurses making me sit down. Society aggravates me and I got away from all that here. I don't take medication at all now.'

Mr Parsons said he was in the merchant navy until 1969, travelling to Australia and the Pacific Islands. 'Then I ran a plant hire business for four years. One of the men got drunk on a Saturday afternoon and knocked over a bungalow and the business went bankrupt. Then I had a nervous breakdown and just drifted to Ireland, Spain, Italy, looking at the monasteries of Europe for 10 years, walking and living rough.

'I'm totally self-sufficient here and harming no one. I'm no gypsy. I don't want to travel.

'Here there's no aggravation. When you go a bit wobbly with the mental health you can go in the barrel for two days, shut the door and stay there. When I come out I feel a damned sight better.'

Mr Parsons, who says he will simply pack his essentials in the car and move on if he is evicted, adds: 'Business is killing this world. Not paying rent, not having planning permission, all these things aggravate other people because they spend their lives worrying what other people are doing.

'They're not happy just going about their own business. They want to find out about everyone else's; and then they want to stop it.'

(Photograph omitted)