Rogue council officers conspired to ignore legal procedures to evict a social housing tenant who then spent a year homeless living on the streets.
During the eviction, they removed all the tenant’s possessions from his flat, including computers and passport and trashed them at the local rubbish dump.
Southwark Council has now apologised to their former tenant and paid him a significant amount in compensation. The details of the settlement remain secret.
Judge Anthony Thornton QC, sitting at the High Court, said: “The conspiracy also involved 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.”
“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.”
The court was told that the unnamed tenant owned more than £2,300 in rent arrears because his housing benefit was £18.59 a week short of the rent due.
In 2006, the council successfully obtained a possession order from the courts, but the order was suspended four times – the latest in May 2010.
The tenant was evicted without the council applying to a judge and disregarding rules to protect his belongings.
In his ruling, the judge stated that the council could not apply for a warrant to execute an order that was suspended more than six years earlier without first making an application to a judge, which the officers failed to do.
“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,” he said.
The tenant sued the council for reinstatement and substantial damages for 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.
Councillor Richard Livingstone, Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “We realise we got things wrong when dealing with this person and their possessions. We have apologised for any distress we may have caused and do so again following the judgment. We acted swiftly and took strong disciplinary action against our staff when this came to our attention and we have also settled the claim against us.
“We have also looked closely at our procedures to try to ensure that there is no repeat of this highly unusual, but distressing, scenario. Poor treatment of tenants and residents is totally unacceptable and we will be reviewing the judgment closely to see if there is any further action we need to take.”