A MENTALLY-ill pensioner was hounded by a “blinkered and aggressive” council that ran up a bill totalling £200,000 by chasing a debt of just £1,900.
Now the victim of the case, schizophrenic great-grandfather Trevor Evans (80), who also has dementia, has spoken exclusively to the Dispatch.
Mr Evans, of Bestwood Village, was at the centre of the legal action by Gedling Borough Council.
He was made bankrupt in 2004 over the £1,900 council-tax that he owed. And the debt has been hanging over him ever since.
The council spent £50,000 in legal costs alone. But now a judge has ruled Gedling wrongly ignored the fact that Mr Evans was vulnerable. As a result, the legal action has been quashed.
Now the council must also foot the bill of £70,000 in trustee fees, plus Mr Evans’s legal bill of £80,000 — a total of £200,000, which is more than 100 times the original debt.
Gedling has since apologised to Mr Evans for any distress caused. It says it had no way of assessing the mental health of the pensioner.
But barrister Margaret Griffin, representing Mr Evans at one of the court hearings, blasted the council for showing a “blinkered and aggressive” attitude in pursuing the debt and pushing for the bankruptcy order.
Mr Evans, who has lived in Bestwood Village for more than 40 years, told the Dispatch he was relieved the case was finally settled.
He said: “It has been going on for a long time. I didn’t know it was over until I was told it was done and dusted.
“It is amazing the council was prepared to go so far. I was shocked when I heard about the amounts.”
Mr Evans, who is a widower and formerly worked in the coal industry at Bestwood Workshops, added: “I am pleased it is over.”
In a notice of her judgement, District Judge Jane George said Mr Evans “lacked capacity” when the bankruptcy order was made.
She said the council’s tax manager, Alistair Townsend, “demonstrated a lack of understanding in Mr Evans’s case”.
Mr Townsend said in a statement that he was “under no duty to make detailed enquiries” about Mr Evans’s mental health.
Gedling Council says it has now taken steps to help vulnerable residents who may find themselves facing similar problems.
It said that if it had been aware of Mr Evans’s health problems, it would have been “unlikely to have pursued the action”.
A spokesman continued: “The council is concerned about the implications of the judgement because it has no means to assess the mental health of debtors where it is not told there is a problem.
“The council has been advised that there are grounds for a positive appeal but has decided not to take this step because of the potential cost to the public purse and the further stress and uncertainty this may cause Mr Evans.”
The bill relating to the failed prosecution of Mr Evans’s case will not be paid by local taxpayers. The council says it has an insurance policy to cover such expenses.
Matthew Hill, representing Mr Evans, said his client was “lucky that help found him”. But he warned there were many others who were at risk and “slip through the net“.
He added: “The council’s decision to make Mr Evans bankrupt, for such a relatively small amount of money, and to carry on with this case for so many years, demonstrates a worrying attitude towards vulnerable individuals.”