Roger writing the LAWmag
11
May 2011

The Man Who Hid His House Inside A Barn

Long live Mr. Beesley, broke though he may now be, and you will soon see why.

Once upon a time, July 1999 to be exact, there was a lovely agricultural green belt surrounding the sleepy English countryside hamlet of Northaw, Potters Bar, not far from Judge's Hill, and North of London.

There, Mr. Alan Beesley bought 22 acres of open land. A few months later, he most courteously applied to the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, the local zoning authority and obtained permission to build a barn. The barn, as was told to Mr. Beesley when he received his authentic building certificate was as he had asked for; only for the storage of hay, straw or agricultural products.

beesley houseMr. Beesley winked and drove away.

First, there was that quote of Edward Coke: The house of everyone is his castle.

More law: he knew that law and that construction of a residential property on agricultural land, aka green belt, was prohibited.

Still, Mr. Beesley's imagination would eventually liven-up the jurisprudence doldrums endemic of the law.

And so upon the green, green grass of Potters Bar, secretly, and between January and July of 2002, much building material was brought up on this 22 acres of open farm land. To all those and sundry passersby, a fine, straight grey barn indeed was rising from the ground. The walls and roof were of the customary sheet-metal. The main door was an industrial roller-shutter variety, and there were two smaller doors as well as eight odd sun lights on the roof.

Most oddly to the neighbors, as they were later to discover, Alan and his wife Sarah, and their daughter moved into the "barn" in August of 2002. To be sure, they could be seen coming in and out of the barn, change of clothing, freshly showered - and always with no other structure in sight. Farm vehicles were set about the property and horses ran in adjacent fields. All to complete the set. No suspicions were raised, no building inspector came a-knocking.

On the fourth anniversary, all came to light.

Mr. and Mrs. Beesly came out, as it were, and marched into Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, declaring, with affidavit in hand, that his family had been living in that "barn" for four years. On that basis, as the script of deception read, he demanded a certificate of lawfulness for use of the building of the dwelling house.

This woke up embarrassed building inspectors who brought the barristers and solicitors of Potters Bar into the picture and together, they began the investigation.

No sooner did they arrive at the "barn" did they find that it was a barn fit for a King. Hidden under the façade of an industrial agricultural barn was a complete residence.

Eventually, the case went before seven distinguished judges of the highest court in al the land, the newly-named United Kingdom Supreme Court; lords all: Lord Phillips, Lord Rogers, Lord Walker, Lord Hale, Lord Brown, Lord Mance and Lord Clarke.

Only the English could call their judges "lords" with a straight face and this, in spite of the white horse-hair whigs on all, but we digress as in any case, the closer-to-God "Lord Mance" noted this of the barn:

"Internally it was a dwelling house with full facilities, including garage, entrance hall, study, lounge, living room, toilet, storeroom, gym and three bedrooms, two of them with en suite bathrooms, and connected to mains electricity, water and drainage and a telephone line."

Yes, it seemed all too clearly now, Mr. and Mrs. Beesley were not rolling in the hay at all.

Au contraire.

Unfortunately for the Beesleys, the lords-justices before whom they made their case noted a plain and simple fact which could not be wriggled out of the courtroom no matter how hard the lawyers tried.

The Beesleys had never used their barn for agricultural purposes. It had always been, simply, their home and therefore, there was no change in use available to them to ground their application for a certificate of lawfulness.

Lest the Beesley's accidentally understood the court's decision, to this, the Lords added the requisite measure of legalese:

"Mr Beesley's conduct, although not identifiably criminal, consisted of positive deception in matters integral to the planning process (applying for and obtaining planning permission) and was directly intended to and did undermine the regular operation of that process. Mr Beesley would be profiting directly from this deception if the passing of the normal four-year period for enforcement which he brought about by the deception were to entitle him to resist enforcement. The apparently unqualified statutory language cannot in my opinion contemplate or extend to such a case."

And thus the court of law threw the man who hid his house inside a barn out into the cold, to fend for himself against a very angry Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, and their entourage of barristers and solicitors quite ready now to evict first, bulldoze later and destroy the house that was not meant to be and, of course, sell what they can to recuperate their costs.

This is how Mr. and Mrs. Beesley caused the law books of the land to be enlivened by the story of the man who hid his house inside a barn.

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