Travellers are given legal aid

Travellers site on Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, Chorley
Travellers site on Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, Chorley

Travellers who are fighting to stay on land in Chorley have been granted legal aid to fund their latest court battle, the Guardian can reveal.

Michael Linfoot, who co-owns the controversial strip of greenbelt land, in Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, has had his application for legal aid granted after being summoned to court by Chorley Council for failing to adhere to an enforcement notice.

His business partner, Joseph Boswell has also applied to have his legal fees covered, but it has been rejected as more information is required from his solicitors.

The news comes after Chorley Council set aside £145,000 to cover the cost of fighting to evict the two families from their unlawful campsite - where they have now lived for more than two years.

Campaigning resident, Dave Jones said: “It’s ridiculous as it means that taxpayers are effectively having to pay twice when a planning inspector has already ruled that the travellers should leave. It is a crazy waste of taxpayers’ money when people are losing their jobs in the public sector and it is a huge frustration to us all.”

The land owners could have had their case heard at a magistrates court, but instead opted for trial by jury at Preston Crown Court that will not be heard until the New Year.

They have also forced a second planning inquiry after submitting an appeal which was not decided in time by Chorley Council.

Mr Linfoot defended the move and said: “We are taxpayers ourselves and have paid council tax since we arrived on site. We have to pay taxes like anyone else and have also had to pay for our own legal fees along the way.

“We will still have to pay towards the legal aid too, but we have got to keep fighting.”

Coun Alan Cullens, who has responsibility for planning at Chorley Council, said: “Since the council began proceedings to remove the travellers from Hut Lane in 2009, a total of £22,037.50 has been spent on legal fees.

“This comes from the £145,000 the council set aside to cover the costs associated with this case and includes the cost involved with the planning inquiry and High Court action brought by the travellers to challenge the enforcement notices, in addition to the criminal prosecution work.

“In addition to the direct financial outlay, there has been, and continues to be, a significant amount of staff time spent dealing with this issue.

“While this is a lot of money, the council has a responsibility to take action on this breach of planning regulation to prevent a precedent being set for others in the future. In addition to the social and moral duty we have to local residents, the fact is that the travellers are contravening planning law by setting up home on greenbelt land.”

A Legal Services Commission spokesperson, said: “Michael Linfoot has been granted legal aid for his forthcoming crown court trial.

“However, Joseph Boswell does not currently have legal aid. His application was rejected because we require more information from his solicitors. Anyone facing a Crown Court trial can apply for legal aid funding. This ensures these often complex trials are heard thoroughly and fairly in the interests of everyone affected by the case.

“Defendants can be made to pay a substantial monthly contribution towards their legal costs. This is due to a means testing scheme introduced in the crown court last year - to ensure more affluent defendants pay a fair share towards their legal aid costs during their trial.

“If convicted in the crown court, anyone with over £30,000 capital assets can also be made to pay an additional contribution that can cover up to the full cost of their defence team. The fees paid to lawyers funded through legal aid are considerably less than privately funded lawyers.”