Ombudsman tears strip off council!

Beverley and Eileen Jacques show the size of the strip of land at the heart of the council wrangle.
Beverley and Eileen Jacques show the size of the strip of land at the heart of the council wrangle.

BARNSLEY Council has been blasted by the Ombudsman for putting two women through what they described as “two years of hell”.

Sisters Beverley and Eileen Jacques, of Rose Grove, Wombwell, were charged thousands of pounds for a tiny strip of land they needed for a home extension.

They were told to cough up £4,000 for the 1.7-foot strip – after an initial quote of £2,590 was even raised to a possible £7,000 at one point.

The Jacques’ claimed the price was “extortionate”, and were backed by the Ombudsman, who ruled that their strong sense of outrage was justified.

At one point the sisters were told their extension might have to come down.

In July 2009, said Beverley, she was told by one surveyor that she had encroached by 16 inches, only to be told hours later by an “encroachment officer” that she had done nothing wrong.

The Ombudsman said the council should remedy the injustice and give the sisters the land free of charge, with an apology and £1,500 to cover the distress caused.

But Beverley, a fingerprints officer for South Yorkshire Police said: “What BMBC has put us through, no amount of words or compensation can put right.

“I do feel the amount recommended is an insult for what this has caused us both personally.”

During the 20-month wrangle, numerous visits were made by officers, who issued differing land measurements and price quotes. The women “lived on a building site” with no cooker, a freezing home due to an outside wall being chipped away and increased bills.

Both sisters claim to have suffered ill-health as a result of stress.

Their ordeal intensified last August when their brother Les – a former Wombwell postmaster – died in an horrific road crash in America.

Beverley said: “The extension was partly to allow Les and his family to stay with us, but that can never happen now.

“It upsets me that the last time I saw him I couldn’t have him here, as the council had halted the extension. He always urged us to be strong and stand our ground over this.

“It has cost me time and trouble at work; I’ve been off ill with stress and in the current climate it could have cost me a job I’ve loved for 28 years.”

She added: “I am a well-respected law abiding citizen who feels I have been treated less well than a criminal. This saga has just gone on and on. I hope this will see an end to it.

“I can’t begin to think how much public money has been involved. The council has paid for a district valuer and a barrister and incurred many other costs over an issue that should never have arisen. People should be aware of what can happen when they deal with the council over land. It’s nothing like the straightforward process you expect it to be.”

The Ombudsman concluded the council acted with maladministration in deciding that the extension encroached onto land it had agreed to sell, and by increasing the price.

Barnsley Council has accepted some compensation should be paid to the complainant, and the issue will be raised again in March at an Audit Committee meeting.