Len and Helen

Read the story of Len and Helen Prior whose home in Vera was demolished by the Junta de Andalucia on the 9th January 2008.

Len and Helen are two of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet, and they shouldn't be ! They should be bitter and twisted, read on and you will find out why. 

OR WATCH THEIR STORY ON YOUTUBE.COM

A dream fulfilled Helen and Len came to Spain in 2002 on a 4 day inspection tour with Medsea Estates. They were shown 6 plots of land for sale in an area called La Loma, which is just outside Vera. The land had been split into plots of 10,000 square metres with outline building permissions. At that time there were probably about 90 houses in the La Loma area. They found a builder, a house design, a solicitor and a bank, paid deposits and went back to the UK. In August 2002 they received a letter from their solicitor to say that the builder had received all necessary licences from Vera council and he advised them to sign the contract.

Work commenced on the house around October of 2002. It was completed on 15th May 2003 and they moved to Spain as full time residents later that month.

They had spent €375,000 constructing their dream home complete with heated swimming pool and landscaped gardens. Their home was beautiful and life was good. They named their house "Tranquilidad" (Tranquility) in expectation of how they would spend their retirement there.

Three years later

In May 2006 they received a phone call from their builder to say that they had to go to Vera Town Hall. They were handed a letter which the secretary translated. It informed them that they had 15 days to demolish the house or the Junta de Andalucia would do so and send them the invoice. They could not believe this and went straight to their solicitor. He said it was a mistake and try not to worry. However, they learnt within a few days that it was not a mistake. Their building licence had been revoked.

9th January 2008 - Tranquility destroyed

In the early hours of the 9th of January the water and electricity meters were removed. Later that morning, the Junta representatives arrived, accompanied by police, bulldozers and lorries, and no amount of persuasion would dissuade them from their task of demolishing this couple's only home.

The only concession given to the Priors was a delay of a few hours so they could remove their belongings from the house. A storage company was called, family, friends, neighbours and kind unknown strangers, (people they had never seen before and have not seen since) began to arrive to help with the removal of anything that wasn't nailed down or cemented in. 

Even the fire “which was still alight at the time” was removed and carried outside. Five containers were filled, but there were still some belongings which could not be accommodated and these had to be left in the garden overnight. To add insult to injury, it rained and everything was ruined. The insurance company refused to pay, saying the Priors ´had not taken due care of the items´.

During the demolition, Len Prior, who has a heart condition, collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital. The doctors at the hospital would not allow him to go back to the house because of the stress it would put him under.

In the aftermath of the demolition a hotel had been booked by Vera town council, but (apparently) only for two nights as Helen was asked to leave on the third day.

On the 12th January a group of fairground people brought a caravan for Helen and Len, and provided them with some basics, such as pillows as the Priors had nothing. All their belongings were either in storage or had been ruined by the rain.

Helen had to resort to brushing her hair with a washing up brush she found in the garden until she could get to buy a new hairbrush. There had been no time to think about what to keep out of storage as the priority had been to get everything out of the house. (Some kindly soul had thought to put some clothes aside, so Helen would have something to wear, they must have had very good taste as they only picked out some ´lovely frocks´, as Helen put it).

Everybody cares - for a while at least

In the days that immediately followed the demolition, the Priors were inundated by newspapers and television reporters anxious to publicise their plight. (Spain's TVE, GMTV from the UK, The Telegraph, and The Daily Mail). Their reports were syndicated worldwide.

Len was quite unwell at this time and Helen coped as best she could. 

On Sunday 19th January a meeting was held in Vera town square in support of Len & Helen and it was well attended by over 1,000 people, both English and Spanish. A very moving speech was made by Helen in which she asked that the Spanish president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero look her in the eye and tell her why two pensioners had been made homeless. She then broke down in tears.

On the 24th January, Helen lost her wedding ring, it was nowhere to be found in the caravan. The press and media interest moved on.

Promises made - promises broken

Around this time there was also a meeting with Felix Lopez,the mayor of Vera. The mayor said he had a house for the Priors with a garden for the dogs (they have 3), and he would arrange to get the keys for them. This cruel promise never materialized.

They were, however, taken to see a flat. It was up four flights of stairs and did not possess a garden. Len's heart condition precluded this from being a viable option, as he was unable to manage the stairs.

The aftermath

During the days and weeks that followed, Helen and Len continued to live in the caravan and campaign for the restitution of their home. During this time they started work on the garage to make it habitable.

The Junta had refused to restore the water and electricity meters, so Len and Helen had been forced to buy a generator and a water tank. They are still without the meters. The Junta revoked their First Licence of Occupation at the same time they revoked the building licence for the house. Without this licence you are not entitled to be connected to mains water and electricity.

For those of you who are wondering why the garage was not knocked down at the same time as the house, the reason is as follows. When the house had been built the Priors applied for planning permission to put a pitched roof on the garage, to put a surround round the pool and to join the garage to the house by adding a utility room and an area for Len to keep all his tools. The licence for this work was not revoked and the authorities could not demolish the garage without damaging the - legal - pitched roof ! The swimming pool and the extension were saved from demolition for the same reason.

This came in very handy during the summer as they were able to use the pool shower. In winter, however, it is a very different matter as they have to shower outside in one of the tin huts they bought, to accomodate a shower and toilet.

AULAN formed

On the 3rd May, a meeting was held in a hotel in Mojacar to launch the AULAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Levante Almanzora No.) A video from ´Holiday Homes from Hell´ was shown of the actual demolition taking place. It was painful to watch and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Helen stood up and gave a speech without benefit of notes and everyone reached for their tissues again. She received a well deserved standing ovation.

Justice delayed is justice denied

On the 27th May, the Priors received a phone call from La Voz de Almeria (newspaper) to say there was a meeting taking place between the Junta de Andalucia and the mayor of Vera about compensation and a resolution to the situation. Nothing ever came of it.

On the 29th May they received a call from a lawyer to say that El Ideal (newspaper)was reporting that a resolution had been arrived at and compensation would be paid that day. Needless to say this didn't materialize either. This may explain why many Spanish, and indeed some English people erroneously believe the Priors have been compensated.

To date, they have not received a penny in compensation.

On the 30th May, the lawyer called again to say that now the papers were reporting that Vera town council was not going to pay. Under Spanish law, Vera town council had 6 months to decide whether to pay the Priors compensation. During these 6 months they were in limbo.

On the 12th June the couple's lawyer told them Vera town council would inform them of their decision the following Monday. Monday came and they were told it would be Tuesday, Tuesday came and still no decision. They were speaking to their solicitor every day but there was no word from the town hall.

Finally on 24th June, the paperwork was received from Vera town hall which stated they were not going to pay.

Around this time the town hall came and measured up around the Priors house and determined that it could not cause an urban nucleus, which had been the alleged reason for the demolition. They went away happy as this would mean they were absolved of any responsibility for the demolition. As far as they were concerned the house was legal and the licences granted by the town hall should not have been revoked by the Junta.

At this point barristers started a case for compensation against Vera town hall citing that they had known about the problem for 5 years and done nothing. They had not informed the Priors or their solicitors.

On the 27th June, the Priors sent a letter with copies of the videos showing the demolition by registered post to the President of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

On the 14th July their petition (Recurso de Amparo), submitted prior to the demolition, was accepted in the constitutional court in Madrid. This was quite momentous as only 5% of petitions submitted are accepted. The petition had 3 parts:
a) To stop the demolition.
b) To declare the whole action (which resulted in the demolition order) order null and void because the Priors were not represented in the proceedings.
c) A Querella (charge) against the judge.

On the 22nd October, 6 judges in Madrid dismissed the first part (a) of the Priors claim on the basis that the request was to obtain the nullity of a judgement that had already been fulfilled.

Legal proceedings in Spain are notoriously slow. It could be many years before Helen and Len are compensated for their loss.
Len's health had been seriously affected as a result of their troubles, and by the end of October Helen found he was sleeping much of the time.

Spectres at the feast

On 23rd October, the Priors attended the AEPA seminar. The AEPA is an association of businessmen and entrepreneurs in Albox and holds such a seminar every year. Last year the main topic was the illegal housing situation, and it was again this year. It was attended by Luis Caparros and Jose Ortiz, delegates from the Junta de Andalucia. The Priors were standing outside the entrance with placards carrying pictures of their house prior to its being demolished. A gentleman in a suit asked them to leave three times or the police would arrest them. They only left when he told them that they were not helping the cause of Albox and Cantoria residents who had illegal houses by being there.

Support from the British Government?

On the 3rd December, almost a year after their home was demolished, the Priors met with Quentine Reville from the British embassy in Madrid. She told them that they were constantly speaking with the Spanish government about the damage being done as a result of the demolition and the illegal housing situation.

What do we think...what do YOU think about this?

On the 9th January 2010, it will be two years since the Priors watched in horror as their home was razed to the ground. They were innocent pawns in a political disagreement and a clear case of maladministration, which had absolutely nothing to do with them.

At the time of writing (8th December 2008) the demolition has already cost them somewhere in the region of 25,000 euros, in legal bills, storage costs and the purchase of the basic bare necessities needed to survive life in a garage, if you can call it living. And, contrary to popular belief, they have not received ONE PENNY from any interviews given.

Helen and Len are pensioners, they have worked hard all their life and looked forward to their retirement. From living in a beautiful house which they absolutely loved, they are reduced to existing in a garage with an attached utility room, their toilet and shower 'facilities' ( we use the word loosely) are outside in a tin shed.


They do not deserve this. This is so very wrong. Playing with innocent people's lives cannot and will not be forgiven.

FULL RESTITUTION IS REQUIRED AND IT IS REQUIRED NOW.

 

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