Page last updated at 07:51 GMT, Thursday, 27 August 2009 08:51 UK

Mobile home owners 'preyed upon'

By Melanie Abbott
Face the Facts, Radio 4

The burned out remains
There were a series of arson attacks on mobile homes in Bromsgrove

Elderly mobile home residents claim that weak legislation is leaving them open to intimidation by unscrupulous land owners.

For the residents of The Glen, in Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, life changed from a peaceful idyll to a terrifying ordeal with a series of arson attacks on their mobile homes.

"When I saw the blaze I opened my door and fell down the steps because I thought it's going up in a minute," one elderly resident told the BBC. She ended up selling her home for £1 although residents had paid up to £50,000 for the mobile homes.

Seven men including site owners John and Simey Doherty were sentenced earlier this year for offences committed against residents of the Glen - and received combined jail sentences totalling 64 years.

Defenceless people are being preyed upon by unscrupulous site owners
Lord Graham, parliamentary group on mobile homes

"The sad fact is that many people living on park homes are elderly, disabled and frail," says Lord Graham of Edmonton, the secretary of the all party parliamentary group for park homes.

"Defenceless people are being preyed upon by unscrupulous site owners."

He believes the problem is widespread and has been campaigning since 2000 for site owners to be subject to a fit and proper person test. Anyone with a criminal conviction or county court appearances would be scrutinised under a new licensing system.

The government has just finished consulting on the idea, but it could take years for it to become law.

Meanwhile mobile home owners complain they are at risk from rogue owners. For unscrupulous land owners, there is a potential to profit by clearing existing homes and replacing them with newer ones.


Demolised houses at LadyCroft mobile home park
Thirty houses at LadyCroft mobile home park were demolished

Residents of LadyCroft Park in Blewbury, in Oxfordshire, decided to take action into their own hands. They successfully took court action against their site owner, Maurice Sines.

He signed a court order not to threaten, abuse or harass residents, members of their families or visitors or prospective purchasers and not to block sales of homes.

Sheila Austin, who led the court action, said Mr Sines had made it impossible for residents to sell their homes.

"He blocked sales saying homes would be dragged around the park, threatening and shouting abuse at people. It was absolutely horrendous," she said.

Site owners can approve the buyers of homes, but are supposed to give a valid reason for withholding that approval.

Thirty people sold their homes to Mr Sines. One house was valued at £50,000, but sold for £10,000.

They were then all demolished and replaced with new ones.

The 25 remaining residents got £75,000 damages in an out-of-court settlement. Mr Sines has now sold the site, but still owns or co-owns 13 other sites.

Mr Sines said he agreed to an order not to harass and intimidate residents at Ladycroft Park because he was not doing it in the first place.

He claimed the £75,000 damages were to compensate people for living in a building site for three years.

'Tidy profit'

Sheila Austin
Sheila Austin led a court action against the owners of LadyCroft Park

Another site owned by Mr Sines and his business partner James Crickmore was successfully cleared of all 72 homes, resulting in a tidy profit.

Former residents say owners of older homes were made to feel unwanted.

"They just didn't want us on there, as they couldn't make any money out of us," said one elderly resident.

"They were banging on the doors in the early hours of the morning, saying 'you have got to get out or we'll hook your van up and pull it round the site until it just falls to bits'. It was unbelievable."

Site owners can buy new homes from the manufacturers for around £60,000. Once on site, the home can be sold for up to £160,000.

BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts has uncovered similar complaints at other sites owned by Mr Sines and Mr Crickmore.

At Medina Park on the Isle of Wight, residents told the BBC that sales of older homes were being blocked and other sales only allowed to go ahead if the ground rent or pitch fee was increased - sometimes by more than 30%.

The law says it should only be increased annually and in line with inflation.

And there have been complaints of sales being blocked on another site, Woodlands Park, in Kent, also owned by the two men.

Mr Sines and Mr Crickmore insist they do not block sales on any of their sites.

They said the homes they bought were not fit to be sold on the open market. Instead they were trying to improve the parks like Hardwick Bridge and Ladycroft.

They deny harassing or intimidating residents, instead saying residents were harassing them.

Face the Facts, The Long Wait For a Law, will be broadcast on Thursday 27 August on BBC Radio 4 at 12.30pm, and again on Sunday 30 August at 9pm.

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