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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Prison for tax protest pensioner
Sylvia Hardy arriving at court in Exeter
Sylvia Hardy arrived at court in Exeter with a packed bag
A retired social worker from Devon has become the first woman pensioner to be jailed in England for refusing to pay part of an increase in her council tax.

Sylvia Hardy, 73, from Exeter, was jailed for seven days after missing a deadline to settle arrears of 53.71.

She was cheered by supporters when arriving at court, carrying a packed bag in expectation of a jail term.

Magistrates said they had no choice, but to send her to jail adding she should not be seen as "a martyr".

I am appearing here today to accept my punishment for desperately trying to salvage my ever-reducing quality of life
Sylvia Hardy

Chairman of the bench at Exeter Magistrates' Court, Louis Crowden, said: "If everyone paid their debts on the basis of what they thought appropriate this country would descend into anarchy."

He told Ms Hardy she had been given every chance to pay her arrears and magistrates had no choice but to jail her.

"You may think you are a martyr but you are not," said the chairman.

'Daylight robbery'

Ms Hardy told the court: "Throughout history, people have fought to change laws which are unjust, and often the only way to do this is to break the law or ignore it and to accept the punishment.

"That is why I am appearing here today to accept my punishment for desperately trying to salvage my ever-reducing quality of life."

Sylvia Hardy supporters at prison
Supporters of Sylvia Hardy stopped the car at the prison
She spoke of other pensioners around the country who face jail for refusing to pay council tax rises.

"Many people believe that this tax is daylight robbery, so why are we victims rather than the perpetrators being sent to prison?"

As Ms Hardy, from Barrack Road, was led away the chairman of Devon Pensioners' Action Forum, Albert Venison, shouted at the bench: "You are on a completely different planet you people."

There were other shouts of "pompous ass" and "shame" from other supporters of Ms Hardy who were packed into the small courtroom.

People get community orders and ASBOs, not a jail sentence, for doing much worse than this pensioner
Colin Ormesher, Knottingley, UK

One of the protesters outside the court said after her sentencing: "This government doesn't take any notice of the pensioners' rights or protests whatsoever."

The BBC's John Kay said: "One of the pensioners I've talked to described her as the council tax equivalent of Emily Pankhurst or the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

"That is how she is being perceived by people down here, where her plight has been recognised for some time."

Ms Hardy was taken by car to Eastwood Park prison in Gloucestershire. When the car arrived, its entrance was hampered by supporters of Ms Hardy, who stood in front of the vehicle.

Last week, Ms Hardy met retired vicar Alfred Ridley, 71, from Towcester, Northants, after he became the first council tax "rebel" to be jailed.

Sylvia Hardy says her actions are based on 'principles'

The Sun Council tax OAP jailed - 44 hrs ago
Daily Mail 'Terrified' pensioner jailed over GBP53 tax bill - 45 hrs ago
Telegraph Woman, 73, jailed for failing to pay council tax - 48 hrs ago
Channel 4 News Pensioner jailed over council tax arrears - 48 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Jail for elderly council tax rebel - 49 hrs ago
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Rebel pensioner defiant
11 Feb 04 |  Devon

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