Tramp wins right to keep his home in Hampstead

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After an unsettling 12 months during which he feared he would be evicted from his secluded thicket near Highgate, the 68-year-old Irish tramp has now been told that he may stay there for the rest of his life. His future has been secured through a legal agreement between the local Camden Council and a property company that has bought a plot of the heath, including Mr Hallowes' shady corner, to develop a block of 22 flats.

Thoughts of land values and real estate were far from Mr Hallowes's mind as he slowly established his little domain on the heath. When he first slept on it, the land belonged to Athlone House, a gaudy Victorian mansion converted into a residential home for the elderly and run by the NHS. Word has it that Mr Hallowes, finding himself at his wits end with life in bed and breakfasts, was tipped off about the plot by a gardener at the nursing home. He never looked back.

His small 12ft by 8ft shack is now festooned with mugs and saucepans, often to be found on his makeshift wooden draining board, while medical waste bins interspersed with sprouting crocuses double as his wardrobe. His only entertainment is a radio.

This most modest of kingdoms seemed to be in jeopardy when the Kensington and Chelsea Hospital NHS Trust decided to sell off Athlone House to fund other nursing homes and Dwyer Asset Management bought the site, with permission to develop its flats.

Mr Hallowes was helped by his impeccable connections. He is said to have has found odd-job work, down the years, for the likes of the film director Terry Gilliam and he was quickly pointed in the direction of London's Wilson Barca solicitors. They helped establish that by claiming squatters rights he could claim ownership of a plot worth £2m. Mr Hallowes insisted that he wanted his thicket, not the money, but the possibilities were sobering to any with thoughts of ejecting him.

There was a palpable note of relief in Mr Hallowes's voice yesterday as he disclosed news of the agreement, made under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, which will keep him on the heath. "It's very good for me that it looks like I can stay here now for as long as I like," he said, surveying his 90ft by 90ft back garden. "I don't think they will be trying to move me on."

Giles Veitch, the director of Dwyer Asset Management, confirmed Mr Hallowes would be staying put.

"It is not our intention to seek Harry's removal from the site," he said. "If Harry subsequently leaves the land he is living on there is provision for that land to be transferred."

As part of the same deal with Dwyer, a section of the grounds under development is also to be transferred to the Corporation of London with £50,000, which will be used to turn that area into a nature reserve.

The Heath and Hampstead Society was delighted. "Harry is just one of those people who happens to live outside normal conventions and there is no need to disturb him," said its chairman, Tony Hillier. "He's obviously very happy where he is - and should be left in peace."

Mr Hallowes said: "If they threaten me [again] I know a judge in Highgate."