Thursday, 23 October 2014

Four-hour stand off by bedroom tax protester ends in jail

Supporters say bedroom tax protester should not have been imprisoned.
Taken from current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when youy see a seller. 
An Accrington man’s attempt to avoid being evicted after he fell into arrears following the introduction of the bedroom tax has seen him jailed for ten months.
Michael Hilton, 52, has a history of mental health problems. He is a father of four who had lived in his home in Church, near Accrington, for 33 years. Estranged from his wife, he was the sole tenant, shared the three-bedroom property with his eldest son and regularly had his other children stay over in the unoccupied bedroom.
Michael Hilton's family and supporters in protest. 
Under the bedroom tax introduced in April last year, housing benefit is reduced if the local council decides someone has “spare” bedrooms. Tenants are expected to pay any outstanding rent themselves. Unable to do so, Hilton was £900 in arrears when bailiffs arrived on 4 June this year to evict him and found he had barricaded himself inside using gas cannisters and petrol.
Two fire engines were called to the scene along with police teams that included specialist officers. After a four-hour standoff, during which time Hilton claimed to have doused himself in petrol, fire crews used a detector to determine that noxious gas levels were not explosive and police entered using full flame protective equipment and head gear. There was a strong smell of accelerant and a risk of ignition.
Hilton, who has 17 previous offences, including one spell in prison, was remanded in custody and when he appeared in Burnley Crown Court on 9 October he pleaded guilty to damaging property and criminal damage. Since his arrest four months previously, Hilton’s case had been well publicised by anti-bedroom tax campaigners and a number of them protested outside the court.
Phil Holden, defending, urged Judge Jonathan Gibson to set aside a probation service report arguing
for an adjournment while some form of mental health assessment was undertaken. “My client is keen to know his fate,” said Holden.
“His actions were born out of utter frustration over his dealings with the authorities... he got into arrears because of a change in the law that required him to pay a tax because there were too many bedrooms in his house.
“He was unable to pay it and so the process started. He accepts that it was an utterly inappropriate way of dealing with this problem. He did not intend injuring anyone and did not do so. ”
Holden said Hilton had lost his home, his liberty and all his belongings.
The judge said Hilton’s actions were similar to a “bomb hoax” and had caused substantial public expense in tying up services that could have been deployed elsewhere. Sentencing Hilton to ten months in prison, Gibson told him: “I’m not sentencing you for any form of protest but only for the criminal offences you committed.”
Having already served four months in prison the sentence means Hilton will be free very shortly.
“I am glad,” said his son Johnny. “But it won’t be easy for Dad as, like myself, he has nowhere permanently to live and yet his house of 30 years remains unoccupied. He is in poor shape and being locked up has made him very depressed and his mental health problems have intensified.
He has lost weight. Sending him to prison was inappropriate.”
Len Taylor of Bolton Against The Bedroom Tax said: “Imprisonment was unnecessary, because the expense far exceeds the amount of money that Michael Hilton owed. It is ridiculous that bankers who put the country in huge debt are now getting bonuses whilst Mr Hilton, who does not appear to have been properly advised about discretionary housing payments, has lost everything because of an unjust tax that needs scrapping, with all debts accrued written off.”
The Labour Party is committed to abolishing the bedroom tax if it forms the next government. Labour’s Graham Jones – Hilton’s MP – said: “It may be that Michael needs support from many agencies.

“I am glad Labour is committed to abolishing the bedroom tax. There is clearly a big issue with tenants in arrears and perpetuating that debt seems unreasonable as it continues the problem Labour opposes. There is also the issue of those that have paid the bedroom tax. All these need to be resolved for the best.”

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