AA v London Borough of Southwark, Court of Appeal - Queen's Bench Division, October 14, 2014, [2014] EWHC 500 (QB)

Resolution Date:October 14, 2014
Issuing Organization:Queen's Bench Division
Actores:AA v London Borough of Southwark
 
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Case No: HQ13X02922

Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWHC 500 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 14 October 2014

Before:

HIS HONOUR JUDGE ANTHONY THORNTON QC

Sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court

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Between:

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The claimant represented himself

Mr Kelvin Rutledge QC (instructed by The Director of London Borough of Southwark Legal Services) for the Defendant

Hearing: 18, 19, 20, 28 & 29 November and 23 December 2013

Formal hand down of judgment in open court: 13 October 2014

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JUDGMENT

Summary

1. This summary does not form part of the judgment. It is intended to provide a brief summary guide to the reasons for and the result of this case.

2. The claims. An anonymity order confined to the identity and precise address of the claimant has been made in this case. However, any fact referred to in this judgment is not subject to that order.

3. The claimant had been a social housing tenant of the defendant for 23 years and a tenant of the flat in issue since 2001. His rent in that flat had mainly been paid by housing benefit save for a small weekly shortfall which he had to pay which, by 2012 had risen to £18.59 per week. Throughout the period in that flat, he had been in arrears since this shortfall was only paid in part and intermittently. This had the consequence that his total arrears by the date of his eviction had reached £2,353.26. In November 2006, a possession order was made which was subsequently suspended by a succession of 4 orders culminating in one dated 6 May 2010. These required the claimant to meet his current weekly rent liability and pay off the arrears in small weekly instalments. Nothing was paid following the last of these orders and the defendant applied for the execution of a warrant for possession.

4. The claimant unsuccessfully applied for that warrant to be suspended and it was executed on 23 April 2013. The entire contents of the claimant's flat including his passport, lap tops, papers, personal belongings and furniture were removed from the flat by the defendant and were taken to and destroyed in a refuse disposal facility. The claimant made repeated unsuccessful attempts in the High Court and county court to regain possession and to regain his belongings and also made repeated unsuccessful attempts to discuss his predicament with various representatives of the defendant. He was for a period of over a year street homeless and without financial resources save for the use of a sofa or floor space in accommodation of friends for part of this period and financial assistance from those friends.

5. The claimant's claims were for reinstatement and for substantial damages for his unlawful eviction, unlawful homelessness and for the unlawful destruction of his possessions based on the torts of conspiracy, interference with goods, negligence and misfeasance in public office, breaches of the terms of his contractual tenancy and pursuant to the Human Rights Act under article 8 of the ECHR.

6. The defendant's defaults. The starting point was the defendant's conspiracy involving 3 of the defendant's employees in the Housing department to the effect that the claimant should be evicted at all costs and without the opportunity to obtain a further suspension of the possession order obtained in November 2006. Since the order had been suspended more than 6 years before the defendant wished to execute it, the defendant was not entitled to apply for a warrant, an administrative procedure that did not involve a judge, without first obtaining permission to apply from a judge. Having obtained the warrant, the defendant's housing officer failed to place the full facts of the case to the court at the hearing of the claimant's application for a further suspension. The conspiracy also involved the relevant defendant's housing officers short-circuiting the defendant's standard procedures that should have been followed before and during the execution of the warrant and the taking of a dispossessed tenant's possessions into storage for safe-keeping. These procedures were intended to ensure that any execution of a warrant for possession was fairly, safely and lawfully undertaken. The conspiracy continued as an attempted cover-up of the unlawful nature of the original conspiracy and of the unlawful consequences of that conspiracy that had led to the claimant's unlawful eviction, the destruction of the claimant's possessions and his homelessness without financial resources for a lengthy period.

7. Findings - permission to apply for a warrant of execution. It has been a requirement for many years that a landlord must apply to a judge for permission to apply for a warrant for possession if the original possession order had been made more than 6 years prior to the order even if the order had been suspended by a judge on terms that had not been complied with in the intervening period. That requirement is currently provided for in CCR 26r5(1)(a) as confirmed by the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Hackney LBC v White (1996) 28 HLR 219 and Patel v Singh [2002] EWCA Civ 1938. The judgment confirms that those decisions and the underlying CCR were applicable to the defendant's application for a warrant in this case and to the claimant's eviction pursuant to that warrant. It finds that the defendant's contention that the 6-year period only started to run after an order in Hassan form further suspending the possession order had been made on 20 February 2007 was unsustainable. The warrant and its execution were, on that ground alone, unlawful.

8. Findings - the various torts and breaches of contract. The judgment reviews the evidence at great length and reaches the following conclusions:

(1) The eviction was unlawful and an abuse of process both because the warrant was issued without the prior permission of the court and in the manner in which it was executed.

(2) The various officers of the defendant conspired to evict the claimant by unlawful means, to seize and destroy his possessions by unlawful means and to cause him harm and loss be evicting him of his possessions by unlawful means. This conspiracy was subsequently covered up by a further conspiracy which gave rise to abuse of process in the subsequent court proceedings and to a continuing deprivation of the claimant's enjoyment of his tenancy and loss of his possessions.

(3) Three officers exercised their powers as public officers in relation to a local authority secure tenancy for an improper motive with the intention of harming the claimant by having him evicted when there were no reasonable grounds for his eviction and by arranging for his possessions to be seized and destroyed unlawfully.

(4) The claimant had, as a result of these facts, also been caused loss by the negligence of the defendant, by its breach of his right to the quiet enjoyment of his tenancy and as a result of the lack of respect shown to his private life by the defendant.

(5) The claimant was entitled to substantial damages that extended to special or general damages, aggravated and exemplary damages and damages for breach of contract and for the various torts he had been subject to and for equitable remuneration for the lost work stored on his hard drives, discs and memory sticks and for his lost photographs as well as a remedy for the loss of his tenancy on a basis still to be determined.

9. The remedies and damages to be awarded were to be dealt with at a second trial. The parties however reached an out of court settlement that disposed of the remaining disputes as to remedies.

His Honour Judge Anthony Thornton QC:

Part 1 - Introduction

1. General overview

1. AA was a secure tenant of the London Borough of Southwark (``LBS'') for over 23 years between November 1989 and April 2013 on the North Peckham Estate, London, SE1. Initially, his tenancy was at 20 Blendworth Way but following LBS's decision to demolish and rebuild that part of the Estate, he was retenanted in a one-bedroom flat on 26 February 2001. There was no evidence of rent arrears during his first tenancy. However, throughout the period of his second tenancy, AA always received Housing Benefit which met most but not all of his weekly rent and was paid directly to the Housing Department of LBS. The rent shortfall was initially £18.80 per week and it remained at that level over the years so that when the flat was repossessed on 23 April 2013, it was £18.59 per week.

2. AA only made infrequent weekly payments from his own resources to meet the accumulating shortfall which was further increased from time to time by temporary stoppages of Housing Benefit payments which were not always subsequently paid in full once those payments were reinstated. LBS obtained a possession order on account of AA's arrears on 13 November 2006 which was subsequently suspended by a sequence of orders dated 20 February 2007, 6 September 2008, 12 November 2008 and 6 May 2010. Following further persistent non-payment of the sum due weekly for the rent shortfall of £18.59 plus £3.30 off the arrears following the last of these suspended orders, LBS applied for the execution of a warrant for possession and, when it was executed on 23 April 2013 and the flat was repossessed, the arrears were £2353.26 plus £485 court costs and the arrears under the suspended possession order were £1,898.62 The arrears of rent pleaded in the counterclaim were £2,919.69 on 21 July 2013. This figure took account of unpaid court costs of £485, two further costs orders totalling £400 relating to hearings on 1 and 14 May 2013 and two payments made by AA on 24 and 29 April 2013 totalling £550.. LBS arranged for all AA's possessions, being the entire contents of the flat, to be removed on about 25 April 2013 and these were immediately taken to a refusal disposal facility and destroyed.

3. AA now claims, in broad terms, that the issue and execution...

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