Barnsley councillor shouted ‘fire, fire’ to illegally evict family - court heard

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A Barnsley councillor shouted ‘fire, fire, get out’ when he illegally evicted a family - leaving a teenager on the pavement barefoot in her pyjamas - a court heard.

Sheffield Crown Court heard Philip Davies, 55, who is also a private landlord, had a dispute with tenants Wayne Smith and Lisa Slater.

Their relationship “became stretched” over an argument about the desposit on a property which Davies began renting out.

It ended with the couple’s 19-year-old daughter Jade Harrison being locked out of the house, left on the pavement and the electric gates to the grounds closed.

Kevin Jones, prosecuting, said Davies owned two properties on Lingard Street in Old Town, Barnsley and began renting out Southfields, his former family home for 20 years, while he moved his family into Treetops which he built next door within the grounds.

Mr Smith and Miss Slater signed a tenancy agreement on April 17, 2013, Sheffield Crown Court was told.

Davies let them have the keys but Mr Jones said: “It would appear that neither party really had a proper look at the agreement.

“There were issues over the deposit. The couple thought it was for a lesser amount, it was in fact for a greater amount. It seemed to be the start of a falling out.”

The relationship between the parties worsened when the tenants complained over a washing machine not working and some damp in the house.

They also claimed they were not given a rent book or gas and electricity certificates.

Emails flew between the landlord and tenants and matters came to a head on June 20, 2013 when the couple went out leaving the teenager in the house.

Mr Jones said Miss Harrison was coming downstairs about midday in her pyjamas when she heard the front door open and assumed it was her father.

She heard someone go upstairs then saw it was in fact Davies who shouted: “Fire, fire, get out.”

The 19-year-old believed the house was on fire and escaped barefoot still in her pyjamas and was escorted outside the grounds by a number of people before the electric gates to the grounds were closed on her.

Davies was supported by his son, his son’s friend and a man sporting a security uniform. He then parked his vehicle to block the gates.

Five minutes later Miss Harrison was handed her shoes, coat and mobile phone which she had left inside.

“She was left to her own devices on the pavement,” said Mr Jones. “She telephoned her mother and father in a panic saying the house was on fire. She was told not to go in because the house was dangerous.”

Mr Smith arrived “very angry” and rang the police before being handed a notice purporting to be an “emergency” eviction and a letter posted the previous night requiring access to the house.

“Davies was denying the family access to the property,” said Mr Jones. The couple left with the police and Davies put a padlock and chain on the electric gates and changed the house locks.

He bundled the couple’s belongings into plastic bags and emailed Mr Smith saying they would be left outside the gates.

Davies told police he was refusing the family entry to the property because it was dangerous “due to an electrical fault”.

Officers were allowed inside by Davies who said the power had been switched off and bags and suitcases could be seen.

The family were put up in a hotel for the night, paid for by Davies, and officers went back at 11.30pm to speak to Davies but could not contact him.

So they climbed over the wall and knocked on the door of Treetops but got no answer. They eventually managed to get Davies to answer his mobile and he opened the front door upon which he was arrested.

He told police he had hired a local secuirty firm to help him secure the property along with his son, his son’s friend and neighbours in case they were needed.

“He didn’t think anyone was at home and was surprised to see the girl,” said Mr Jones.

He believed Mr Smith had tampered with the wiring and was running a business from Southfields.

Davies wrote to the family later saying they could return to the house but the offer was declined. “The relationship had deteriorated to such an extent that the couple were withholding the rest of their desposit and rent,” said Mr Jones.

Davies admitted an offence of unlawful eviction in the case which was brought by Barnsley Council.

His family and community workers packed the public gallery.

“It reflects how well he is thought of in the community,” said Robert Sandford, defending.

It was the first time the councillor had let a property and he was on medication at the time.

“He should never have let these people into his property, the situation deteriorated rapidly and it was a misjudgment to take the action he did,” said the barrister.

Judge Robert Moore said the case was different to those where a landlord puts his tenants out on the streets and is usually jailed.

The court heard the family had moved in when Davies allowed them to measure up, they had refused to pay a deposit and later made allegations about the electrics which they had always known about.

“This was a series of errors when you were not at your best,” he told Davies.

The councillor was given a 12-month community order, 60 hours of unpaid community work and he was ordered to pay £1,000 towards the prosecution costs.

He was elected to Labour-run Barnsley Council in May, 2012 and was suspended from the Labour Party when he was arrested. He is due for re-election next year.

An investigation has been launched by Labour’s National Executive Committee.