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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Tax rebel vicar ready for prison
Rev Alfred Ridley and his wife Una
Rev Ridley said he wants a reform of the council tax system
A retired vicar who refuses to pay a council tax increase said he is ready to go to jail after a magistrate warned him to pay up or come back to court.

Rev Alfred Ridley, 71, refused an order by magistrates in Towcester to pay an outstanding bill of 651 by instalment.

He argues that the increase of twice the rate of inflation is unfair and turned up at court on Wednesday with his toothbrush ready to go to jail.

Mr Ridley and his wife Una, 70, said they would not pay back the arrears.

We are doing this not just for ourselves, but for all people on low incomes
Rev Alfred Ridley

Before entering the court Mr Ridley told a group of 20 protesters: "This is a point of principle. I have known all along that I could go to prison. We want a reform of the council tax system.

"Council tax has risen by 70% in the last few years.

"We are doing this not just for ourselves, but for all people on low incomes. Protest is needed. It is totally unfair."

The retired vicar and his wife, who live in a detached house in the rural town, began their campaign last April after refusing to pay the increased bill of 64 a year from South Northamptonshire District Council.

Instead of paying the 6.8% rise they agreed to pay an increase of just 2.5%, saying this was fairer to the lower paid.

'Wilful' non-payment

They were told to settle the bill in full but refused and bailiffs were sent to their home on three occassions before the couple were issued with a committal notice threatening them with prison for "wilful" non-payment of the tax.

The couple live on a State Pension of 131.20 per week plus a 400 a month church pension.

Magistrate John Woollett told Mr Ridley if failed to pay the outstanding bill, which had grown from 65 to 651 because of court and bailiff fees, he would be brought back to court.

The retired vicar replied he had no intention of paying the bill.

Speaking outside the court Mr Ridley said he believed the authorities did not want to send him to jail for fear of creating a council tax "martyr".

He said: "It is a shameful use of justice. Someone had been given orders that they did not want a martyr.

"The natural outcome of my actions would be to send me to prison but they do not want that."

Mrs Ridley added: "If it means going to prison we should go."


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