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Julia Daunt and Paul Fiddian settle outstanding council tax bill rather than face prison

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

By Will Topps

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PROTEST: Council tax withholders Julia Daunt and Paul Fiddian pictured when they appeared at North Devon Magistrates Court in September.

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A COUPLE who said they would rather go to prison than pay their council tax bill, ended up paying the £903 they owed.

Julia Daunt, 29, and Paul Fiddian, 32, told the Journal in September they wouldn't pay the bill because they believe land next to their Barnstaple home is contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

The dispute dates back to February 2010 when plans to decontaminate the former gasworks site next to Miss Daunt and Mr Fiddian's Barbican Road home were approved by North Devon Council's planning committee.

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

But Miss Daunt and Mr Fiddian claim independent tests carried out by Red Rock Geoscience Ltd prove 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 topsoil could pose a risk to young children through ingestion of soils and home-grown vegetables.

The couple said North Devon Council had let them down by allowing the work to take place and they decided to withhold their council tax payments to the authority in protest.

In September 2011 the couple were taken to court by the authority and ordered to pay up, which is when they claimed they would rather face a jail term than pay the bill.

And as recently as last month they maintained that position, when Miss Daunt said sending her or Mr Fiddian to prison would do North Devon Council "no good".

But the couple have now settled their bill since they plan to leave the area in the next few months.

"Paul and I are moving to Wales," said Miss Daunt. "This is because of a number of reasons including the need to not live on contaminated land.

"As I am sure you can imagine this is very stressful."

She also said it was the decision to move which had necessitated the couple's payment of their council tax, not a change of heart.

"We have been forced to pay our outstanding council tax amount because we are going to be renting and might be subject to credit checks.

"Paying the bill doesn't sit well with me. I feel like North Devon Council has won and I can only hope that one day they realise the error of their ways.

"One reason we are leaving Devon is because we feel forced out by the council and their complete and utter lack of care and concern over our contaminated land issue. The stress was becoming too much. We will miss Devon but we are glad this nightmare is nearly over."

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