Robert Fidler of Surrey is notorious for having built a “castle” on Green Belt land in Surrey without planning permission, which he hid behind straw bales for over four years in an attempt to obtain immunity from enforcement action. The unauthorised development has generated a large number of planning applications, appeals and court hearings over a period spanning 15 years. On 13 June 2014, the court made an injunction order compelling Mr Fidler to demolish the house before 24 June 2015. He failed to do so, whereupon Reigate & Banstead Borough Council applied to commit Mr Fidler to prison for contempt of court. Mr Fidler resisted this on the grounds that he had sold the land, that the Council was in the wrong and that there were protected species precluding demolition. Mr Justice Dove rejected all of these contentions. He concluded that Mr Fidler had intentionally defied the court order and that he was in contempt of court in all 11 of ways alleged by the Council. Mr Fidler was sentenced to 3 months in prison, suspended on condition that he demolishes the house and complies with all the other requirements of the relevant enforcement notices before 6 June 2016. He was ordered to pay the Council’s costs.
Stephen Whale of Landmark Chambers represented the Council in the injunction proceedings and in today’s committal proceedings. The case has attracted widespread media coverage. A small sample can be found on the following links: