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Julia Daunt and Paul Fiddian still refusing to pay council tax over gasworks contamination

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 20, 2012

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A COUPLE who are refusing to pay their council tax in a protest over contaminated land near their home are sticking to their word — and haven't paid up despite being ordered to do so by a court at the start of September.

At the time Julia Daunt, 29, and Paul Fiddian, 32, said they would fight their case to the bitter end, even if it means going to prison.

And true to their word the couple, who live on Barbican Road in Barnstaple, have yet to pay up.

The dispute dates back to February 2011 when plans to decontaminate the former gas works site next to their home were approved by North Devon Council.

The work was undertaken by contractors on behalf of National Grid Property Holdings Ltd, which owns the site.

Miss Daunt and Mr Fiddian claim independent tests carried out by Red Rock Geoscience Ltd prove that the work done at the site has resulted in their garden becoming contaminated with several chemicals, including lead and cyanide.

The report by Red Rock suggests the top soil could pose a risk to young children through ingestion of soils and home grown vegetables.

Which is why they have refused, and still refuse, to pay their council tax.

Ms Daunt said the first thing to happen to the couple since their court date was a knock on the door from a bailiff on November 19.

"We had no idea they were coming as we had no letters from either North Devon Council or the firm of bailiffs," she said.

"We closed the door on him and he left us a letter which we didn't open — the address on the envelope was incorrect.

"I got straight on the phone to the council to ask them why they had passed our debt on to the bailiffs before sending us any documentation or letters. They said a letter was issued but we never got it and they don't have any proof the letter was sent, returned or delivered."

The pair say they have now stuck a notice on the front door which says anyone working for the council is denied entry.

"This has so far kept the bailiff at bay," said Ms Daunt.

She also said she's been told the next step the council will take is to have one of the couple committed to prison.

But she said that will do neither the council or her and Mr Fiddian any good.

"My partner is my carer so I can't manage without him and he is the only one of us working so how can we pay the bill if he isn't earning?

"He's self-employed. I have mental health issues, among other things.

"That's not a very festive headline for the council."

North Devon Council press officer Amy Bingham said she couldn't go into details about the case but joint head of finances for the council Steve Hearse said if the authority had attempted to recover the amount owed through a bailiff, but was unable to, its final option would be to apply for a warrant, committing a debtor to prison.

He said: "We prefer to see the council tax arrears paid and hope we can avoid taking this kind of serious, time-consuming and costly recovery action."

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