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Council loses £18,000 in compensation case
11:00am Thursday 18th October 2012 in News
WYCHAVON District Council suffered a “crushing defeat” in court after trying to claim nearly two million pounds in a criminal compensation case – and winning just £5,750. The amount falls short of the cost of bringing the case against businessman John Bruce, of Wadborough Hall Farm, Pershore, put at almost £18,000.
Bruce pleaded guilty at a magistrates court hearing in September 2011 to breaching a planning order by keeping goods vehicles for sale on a one-acre site in Crabbe Yard, Crabbe Lane, Wadborough, near Pershore. The site only had planning permission for use as a builder's yard.
Wychavon enforcement officers thought they had seen 151 goods vehicles being kept on the site from January 11 to September 29 last year, in breach of the order.
The figure was reduced to 101 on agreement at the start of a proceeds of crime application hearing at Worcester Crown Court.
Wychavon had applied for a confiscation order totalling about £1.9 million, based – it said – on financial information disclosed by Mr Bruce and information provided by a financial investigator.
Over two days, Bruce gave evidence about each vehicle and Judge John Cavell ruled just three had breached the order.
One was a car he was selling for his brother, worth £250, the second was a pedestrian road roller worth £750 and the third a truck worth £4,750 – totalling £5,750. And this was the amount awarded in the confiscation order to the council.
Richard Adams, for Bruce, said it was a “crushing defeat” for Wychavon. “When the proceedings started, they were seeking 1.67 million,” he said.
“This was then increased to £1.9 million. They have recovered £5,750 – 0.29 per cent of the amount they were seeking.”
Tim Moores, for the council, said it believed there was a strong case based on the observations of the site made by council officers.
He said the documents and evidence arguing the case for each vehicle had “drip-fed” through to the court during the hearing but he admitted that the council had not succeeded in the way it had anticipated.
The council first imposed a planning order on Bruce’s site, and later when Bruce contravened the order, the council took it to magistrates court – and following that hearing, Wychavon then applied to the crown court for the £1.9 million confiscation order.
After the case, Bruce said he was very relieved. “If I had lost that amount, it would have finished my business,” he said, adding he was planning to pursue the council for his “substantial” legal costs.
The judge ruled the council should get costs up to the magistrates’ hearing – some £2,380, but from that point each side should bear its own costs.
Bruce, who employs 40 people, was also fined £1,500 for the original breach of the planning enforcement order.