A PENSIONER behind an illegal ‘shanty town’ has been given another reprieve, despite calls from South Lakeland District Council for him to be jailed.
Edward Steele, 65, of Holme House Farm, Skelsmergh, appeared at Carlisle Crown Court in breach of an order to demolish 11 eco-lodges on land around the farm.
He was told at a hearing in November that the work had to have been completed by Monday.
But in court this week he admitted that several of the lodges were still standing and some still lived in, leading to calls from the council for him to be imprisoned.
“He has been very vague about who is living there and where they are living,” said Satnam Choongh, legal representative for SLDC.
“Quite simply he has given us the run around.”
“We don’t think that he should be sent to prison simply as punishment for breaching the order. We say it because it will act as an incentive.”
He added: “People want to be martyrs until they go to prison and then they don’t like it because it’s not designed to be liked.”
But after hearing that work had begun to demolish the lodges, Judge Peter Hughes QC agreed to extend the deadline for demolition until March 11.
Describing prison as 'a blunt instrument', he told the council’s representatives: “You may find that the situation could be different from the one you envisage. “By doing that (sending him to prison) I will give him the opportunity to be portrayed as he wants to be, portrayed as the martyr of the cause.”
Mr Steele, who represented himself in court, explained that he has been suffering from depression since being told the buildings must come down.
However, he has started work at the site, which is costing him around £100 a day.
He also told the court that he intends to fully demolish the lodges and return the land to its original condition, although four lodges that have been deemed ‘lawful’ have been allowed to stay.
However, Mr Steele told the court that many of the tenants who have been forced to move on have not been offered suitable alternative accommodation.
Speaking to the Gazette, he said: “The low-paid should be allowed to live and work in rural areas, instead of being forced into a suburban lifestyle, which they do not want. “But many people have been forced to do so.
“This is a very biased attitude.”
But Judge Hughes said: “They [SLDC] have offered assistance.
“It is up to the tenants if they take advantage of that assistance. It is up to the tenants to take initiative.”
Mr Steele was told that he must provide SLDC with a list of those who are still living on the site within the next seven days.
He must also comply with the order to demolish the remaining lodges by March 11, and will face a prison sentence of 28 days if the order is not complied with.