Page last updated at 18:25 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Luxury barn fraud pair keep home near Potters Bar

The building in North Brook Meadow near Potters Bar
The property is worth some 500,000

A property developer who fraudulently built a luxury home disguised as a barn on green belt land in Hertfordshire has fought off a council eviction bid.

Alan Beesley, and his wife Sarah, faced losing their £500,000 two-storey house at North Brook Meadow near Potters Bar.

The Court of Appeal has now ruled the couple acted within existing laws.

Owners living in a property for four years are entitled to a certificate of lawfulness even if they fail to get the correct approvals, a judge said.

It is a surprising outcome which decent law-abiding citizens will find incomprehensible
Lord Justice Mummery

Mr Beesley was granted permission to build a barn for agricultural use only but fitted it out as a luxury house complete with three bedrooms, a study, bathroom, lounge, reception area, storeroom and gym.

From the outside, the property looks like any other hay barn with a curved roof, no windows, and surrounded by farmyard machinery.

High Court judge Mr Justice Andrew Collins branded the deception a fraud in a ruling in April last year.

Welwyn Hatfield Council were then given the chance to decide whether or not they wanted to evict the pair.

'Misleading appearances'

But a panel of three appeal judges ruled the couple were within the existing law and had achieved immunity for the use of the building as a dwelling.

Lord Justice Mummery said in his ruling: "It is a surprising outcome which decent law-abiding citizens will find incomprehensible.

"A public authority, deceived into granting planning permission by a dishonest planning application, can be required by law to issue an official certificate to the culprit consolidating the fruits of the fraud."

Lord Justice Richards said the case was a lesson for local planning authorities.

"External appearances can be highly misleading, as this case shows, and authorities need to be alert to the possibility of deception.

"The legislation in its present form is open to abuse."

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