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Man targeted by yobs acquitted of dishonesty

PUBLISHED: 12:16 12 November 2009 | UPDATED: 17:20 25 August 2010

A BUILDER who took revenge on a council by claiming benefits he was not entitled to has been cleared of dishonesty. Ian Mitchell, 68, of Crayford Way, Crayford, was angry at Bexley council s failure to stop lawless yobs targeting his home, Isleworth Cr

A BUILDER who 'took revenge' on a council by claiming benefits he was not entitled to has been cleared of dishonesty.

Ian Mitchell, 68, of Crayford Way, Crayford, was angry at Bexley council's failure to stop lawless yobs targeting his home, Isleworth Crown Court was told.

He was driven to such despair that last year he set fire to his own house and is serving a 12-month suspended sentence for that offence.

However, despite, his nightmare existence, the council took him back to court charging him with dishonesty over three council tax benefit claims made between 2000 and 2002, when he had undeclared savings.

His counsel, David Martin-Sperry, who took up the case when Mr Mitchell turned up to court alone with boxes of photos and notes, branded the case as 'absolutely crazy' and the decision to take the matter to court as 'bonkers.'

During the short two day trial, it emerged that Bexley council had been warned off continuing the case as it could make them look a 'laughing stock.'

But the council stood by their decision, telling the Times that court action in response to nearly £5,600 claimed was 'justified'.

Last Thursday the jury took just 20 minutes to acquit Mr Mitchell.

Mr Mitchell used his court appearance to lambast officials who he claimed had stood-by as his windows were smashed, his car covered in oil, and he was pelted with beer cans and eggs.

He said he had also been abused by motorists who he had tried to stop parking in front of his driveway in the chaotic street where he lived. He said he had waited for traffic calming measures to be introduced there for almost 20 years.

He told the court that, between 1993 and 2006, he went to the council 81 times to complain and ask for help, but that his pleas fell on deaf ears.

"I hate them so much you can't imagine," he told the jury.

He said that he had spent hundreds of pounds on hi-tech surveillance equipment to catch the culprits but no one ever came to look at the footage.

By 2008, Mitchell was in such despair and set fire to the once tidy house that he had bought and paid for himself. He now lives in a shed in the back garden.

He told the jury: "I poured a gallon of petrol in every room and lit a match, I thought, 'no more begging, no more begging the council for anything ever again, they have to ask me, I don't have to ask them anymore."

Within weeks of the blaze, the council had taken road improvement action, he had been asking for almost 20 years, installing a camera and traffic calming measures.

Mr Mitchell's life had been blighted by traffic problems, people parking in front of and even on his drive for years, along with youths boozing and sitting on the walls outside his and his neighbours' houses, and even leaning on his house.

A selection of more than 1,000 photos he has taken were shown to the jury.

The court was told that the area has been such problem that even the traffic lights have to be surrounded by a cage to stop youths smashing them. One of the new traffic bollards was ripped out and thrown up his driveway.

Originally Mitchell said he wanted to put a caravan on the driveway to live in but bizarrely officials threatened to have him arrested, although they have since apologised for the mistake.

Speaking outside the court Mr Martin-Sperry said: "This case should never have been brought - it's absolutely crazy. The only problem with things like this is nobody criticises the decision making process that brings a case like this - it's absolutely bonkers."

A spokesperson for Bexley council said: "We believe we were justified in taking proceedings for what is a serious offence. We were very surprised by the jury's decision to acquit Mr Mitchell. We have already secured the repayment of the amount paid to Mr Mitchell as a result of his deception through a charging order on his property."

marina.soteriou@archant.co.uk

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