Council's doomed legal bid cost �94k

A LOCAL authority spent nearly �100,000 in a failed bid to prosecute a council boss for alleged unauthorised alterations to his former �2.7million home, it has emerged.

Craig Robinson

A LOCAL authority spent nearly �100,000 in a failed bid to prosecute a council boss for alleged unauthorised alterations to his former �2.7million home, it has emerged.

Last night Suffolk Coastal District Council defended the expenditure saying they had acted in line with government guidance.

Colin Barrow, now leader of Westminster City Council, faced nine charges of affecting the architectural or historical interest of the Grade II* listed Darsham House, near Yoxford.

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But earlier this month Judge David Goodin ruled the action - which cost Suffolk Coastal �94,000 - was an abuse of process and threw the case out.

That figure could rise further because the district council is still considering whether to appeal to the High Court over the decision.

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Last night Mr Barrow, 57, former deputy leader of the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council, said: “I thought the case was misconceived from the start.

“However, the district council seemed determined to push forward. The whole episode is very sad and unfortunate.”

Mr Barrow said he did not to ask the prosecution for costs, which he would have been entitled to do as the court found in his favour.

“We felt the people of Suffolk had suffered enough,” he said. “The costs will be drawn from central funds - not from Suffolk taxpayers.”

Mr Barrow bought Darsham House in 2004 and carried out an extensive renovation project on the 18-bedroom 17th Century mansion.

The district council claimed listed building regulations had been breached and in March this year issued the enforcement notices on the mansion. It then proceeded with legal action.

But Judge Goodin ruled eight of the alleged offences should be dealt with by enforcement notices, not court action and judged Mr Barrow, his ex-wife Angelica Barrow and project manager Elizabeth Wilson-Smith had no case to answer.

Last night a spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said: “In depth investigations were carried out and top-level legal advice was sought before councillors agreed to sanction both the prosecution and the budget to allow it to proceed.

“The council proceeded in the expectation that its evidence would be found to be overwhelming and that its prosecution would be successful.”

He said the district council has made �8m worth of savings since 2001 - more than it receives from one year's worth of council tax.

“In view of our financial prudency, we embarked upon this case reluctantly but the seriousness of the unauthorised works were such that we could not turn a blind eye to them,” he added.

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