The good old Daily Mail never ceases to disappoint. Each day it shows that it is in fact a very clever spoof newspaper, seeking to poke fun at the prejudices of some of its readers. After all, the alternative, namely that the editorial line of the Mail is genuine and that it means what it says is too horrible to contemplate.
As well as the BBC being a target for Mail disapproval, readers might perceive that the paper also does not like those perceived to be “non-British”. I would never accuse the Mail of racism, so please do not take that implication from what I say. However I can see how a misguided soul could take that impression from some of its articles.
“Police won’t hand stolen caravan back to couple to protect human rights of the travellers living in it”.
The headline originally referred to “gypsies” and not travellers. At some point over the last day or so that has been changed. Sense prevailing perhaps?
One criticism of the Mail (and indeed of many papers from time to time) is that its stories do not match the headlines, and indeed that the stories are sometimes contradicted by the very article itself.
So here we have a headline which lays the blame on “Human Rights” for the travellers in question being allowed to stay in stolen property. The article reads, in part, with my comments in bold:-
A couple whose £30,000 caravan was stolen have been told a traveller family now living in it cannot be removed because it would breach their human rights.
Kathleen McClelland and her partner Michael Curry spent their life savings on the top-of-the-range camper and were devastated when it vanished from the secure site where they kept it.
When police eventually found the 26ft-long Bailey Louisiana caravan 18 months later, its owners were told a traveller couple and their two young children were living in it only ten miles from their home in Surrey.
Their initial relief turned to outrage, however, when the police said they had ‘no lawful powers’ to get it back. They were told their only option was to begin costly civil proceedings against the family, which they say they cannot afford.
Mrs McClelland and Mr Curry had spent £10,000 improving the £20,000 caravan, including putting in a widescreen TV. They bought the vehicle on hire purchase – and still have to make monthly payments of £250 for the next two years.
First of all, I should make clear that I appreciate that Mrs McClelland and Mr Curry have lost a valuable property and, as victims, want to obtain redress. In those circumstances it is not uncommon for people to blame anyone and everyone if they do not get the remedy they want or feel they are entitled to. Mrs McClelland and Mr Curry cannot understand why “their caravan” has someone else living in it and they can do nothing about it.
My comments are directed at the Mail and its “spinning” of the story to suit its perceived agenda.
So we have the Mail pulling at the heart-strings by telling us that Mrs McClelland and Mr Curry spent their life savings on the caravan. I am not suggesting that they did not. But as the piece mentions, they are paying for the caravan on HP at £250 per month. They have two years still to run. They bought the caravan in 2007. That suggests that they bought it on HP over 8 years, meaning that, as well as contributing their life savings, they will have paid around £25,000 in HP costs. Maybe their deposit and the improvements they carried out cost them their savings. But it makes the story “better” to say they spent all their money on it rather than saying that they spent their savings and took on a hefty HP contract.
Hospital ward clerk Mrs McClelland, 68, said: ‘The police said that removing the family would breach their human rights and that they would have to be rehoused before it could be seized. We spent all our retirement money on that caravan because we thought it would last us a lifetime. We’re absolutely devastated. It seems as though no one cares about our human rights.
The Mail reproduced the letter sent to the couple by the police. You can read it below.
Maybe I am missing something, but it does not mention “human rights”.
That is not to say that an officer might not have said that to them, but if they had, they were clearly wrong to do so.
Instead the police have been trying to see if they can help, but, for the reasons explained here (but not by the Mail) there are perfectly cogent reasons why they cannot.
The couple, who live in a semi-detached home in Tongham, Surrey, were in between insurance policies at the time of the theft in 2011 so were not covered for a payout.
And here is the rub. Why have insurance? In case something goes wrong. Here the couple have lost out because they were “between insurance policies”. Insurance protects against risk. Not being insured means that the couple were taking the risk. Sometimes, where there is a risk, things go wrong.
If they had been insured then they would have made and settled their claim, and it would have been left to the insurers to argue about the caravan.
So, to coin a phrase, the couple have been the authors of their own misfortune, and understandably want to find someone else to blame.
Last September police located and identified the caravan in Hook, Hampshire, after interviewing a suspect for an unrelated offence. But because officers did not have evidence that the current occupier knew the caravan was stolen when he allegedly purchased it, he could not be prosecuted and the force said it was unable to seize it.
‘I just cannot comprehend it,’ (Mr Curry) said. ‘If I was stopped by the police and it turned out my car, which I had brought in good faith, was stolen, it would be confiscated and I would lose my money.’
No, Mr Curry, with respect you are wrong.
If the thief had been identified then it would be possible that the evidence (whether a car or caravan) would be seized pending resolution of criminal proceedings. In such a case where the thief was dealt with by the court system, once the case ended there would then be a dispute between the original owner and the person who possessed it when seized as to ownership. Could the person who possessed the property at the end show that they were a bona fide purchaser for value? If so, then the original owner loses out.
But here there (a) was no thief identified and (b) no evidence that the possessor now was guilty of receiving stolen goods, or “rest” as we would call it here.
Mr Curry said they bought the caravan in 2007 and would use it for family weekends away in Cornwall, Cumbria, Scotland and the south coast. It was stolen from a secure storage site in Crookham, Hampshire, after thieves disabled the alarm and cut through a wheel clamp and lock.
One wonders if the couple have had a good look at the terms of their contract with the “secure storage site”. After all, it turned out not to be very secure when thieves could enter the site, disable the alarm, cut through a wheel clamp and lock and then remove the caravan from the site!
Presumably a site advertised or described as “secure” might actually provide some security? If so, what contractual liability does the site have? There is no mention in the piece that they claimed the site unsuccessfully.
Mr Curry said: ‘Apparently they (the family found to have the caravan) had a receipt for it and had paid a guy £300 in a pub for it. They had no proof apart from a handwritten note on a scrap of paper, while we had everything proving it was ours. If they wanted a caravan, why not save up for it like we did?
Except Mr Curry was paying for it on HP, and over an 8-year period.
‘I have lost all faith in the police. It seems that they have completely let us down and turned their backs on us.’
The problem for the police is that it has to act within the law. The police are not here to resolve civil court disputes, but to investigate crime and apprehend wrongdoers. As I mentioned above, in the absence of any alleged offender, the police can do nothing more than they have. I can see why Mr Curry is upset, and unfortunately the Mail coverage is not going to help his feelings of dis-satisfaction. His anger is directed in the wrong place.
A Hampshire Police spokesman said: ‘A 22-year-old man from Hook was arrested and interviewed on suspicion of theft, however there was insufficient evidence to prove he had been involved in the theft, or would have known the caravan was stolen when he bought it. He was released with no further action. We have no police powers to seize the caravan and have advised the owners to seek civil action in order to recover it.’
And the last sentence sums the whole issue up. It is a civil matter. It is for the couple to take court action in the civil courts to recover their caravan.
If the case was in Scotland (and the following is probably true for England too but I will leave that for English lawyers) if all the possessors now have is a receipt for cash of £300, then in an action between them and the couple, I see no likelihood that a court would find against Mrs McClelland and Mr Curry, unless the caravan has deteriorated to the extent that £300 is a fair price.
Some years ago there was a similar case involving the ex-Rangers player Ian Ferguson. He was in dispute with an insurance company about a sports car he had bought. It turned out that the car had been stolen before Mr Ferguson bought it. (There was no suggestion he was involved in any way with the theft or knew that the car had been stolen.)
However his claim to the car, on the basis that he had paid several thousand pounds cash to a man he met in a pub failed to convince the Sheriff that the footballer had been a bona fide purchaser, on the basis that the price he paid was far lower than the car’s value.
On that basis a £300 receipt for a caravan worth far more is unlikely to persuade a court!
There is no doubt that Mrs McClelland and Mr Curry have lost out. They have spent a sizeable sum on a caravan, and more money on improvements, and have lost all of their “investment” as well as having to pay two more years of HP payments.
But it is not as a result of “Human Rights” or police incompetence or the country bending over backwards to help travellers.
Instead the loss is the fault of:-
- The thieves
- The owners for failing to insure the caravan; and
- Potentially the “secure site” owners.
Indeed if you want to blame the police, then do so for not finding the thieves! If they had done so, then the caravan might have been seized!
And if you want to blame the government, then do so on the basis that Legal Aid cuts in England mean that this couple cannot afford to pursue a case which, on the information in the article, they would almost certainly win!
But instead it is easier for the Mail to blame travellers and Human Rights …
Posted by Paul McConville