There is very hot competition among the cast of this sorry episode for being placed on the step. This is also a story which has already been commented on by Tessa Shepperson of Landlord Law, who indeed played a small – and entirely virtuous – part. But Tessa is basically a nice, fair-minded person, and for that reason, her posts are entirely free of bile. I, on the other hand, am not necessarily nice, and rarely lacking in bile to spare.
For a taster of what is to come, here is the first foray of Suzy Butler into the media – the local paper. Note the ‘squatter’ motif, although the local paper does at least have the limited presence of mind to put the term in quote marks.
Then there is this:
Let us pause here to note that Ms Nobre was given an assured shorthold tenancy, paid what appears to be in the order of 6 months rent in advance and remained the tenant of the property, probably on a statutory periodic tenancy. Let us also note that, although facts are hard to discern in the fog of Ms Butler’s variable accounts of events, her father is reported to be a property developer and professional landlord.
GMTV returned to villify the tenant some more a day or so later. By this time, amazingly, Ms Butler isn’t in the tent anymore.
Unsurprisingly, the tenant gave up in the face of some serious media vilification and moved out. Naturally, Ms Butler had cameras on hand for her return.
So, who goes on the step?
Ms Butler is undoubtedly one of the dimmest of accidental landlords. Here, for example is a screen capture apparently from a BBC South East news item of what is apparently the ‘notice’ she served on the tenant (click for bigger).
And in fact, from documents that were shown in a BBC South East news programme on 10 August, it appears that she gave an ‘extended agreement’ to Ms Ombre on 25 May 2010, up to 5 August 2010. This suggests that the ‘notice’ above, dated 28 July was sent after a first missed rent payment in July and Ms Butler’s appearance, with a tent, in the local paper on 7 August stating that ‘she had to wait for two months missed rent to serve notice, which had been done the day before’ was immediately after a second missed rent payment on 6 August. Which makes the whole ‘tenant supposed to leave in April when Ms Butler returned’ story deeply suspect. Ms Butler is very welcome to clarify (as indeed is Ms Nobre).
But of course she is far from alone in saying “I can’t understand how I can have no right to enter the home I bought”, when it is not her home but a property she has let to someone else. Her petulant rage and self pity at actually having to obey the law are deeply unappealing, but again, hardly unusual. What is more unusual is that Ms Butler is not only prepared to court the media to implicitly announce to the world that her own stupidity means that it is unfair that the tenant is accorded legal rights against her, but has decided to actively campaign on the basis of the moral correctness of her own lazy ignorance. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, that Facebook page has apparently repeatedly deleted comments vaguely critical of Ms Butler’s stance on the basis that it is, well, against the law and she has behaved unlawfully – on which more below) [Edit 21/8. Someone had put a link to this post on that Facebook page. That has now been deleted by the page Admin].
In a final display of dimwittedness, Ms Butler and her supporters have announced they will be taking their campaign to Parliament, with her local MP – Mike Weatherly – but this is on 24 August, when Parliament is still in recess. Top lobbying work there. (Mr Weatherly can be contacted via here, should anyone feel he needs a spot of housing law explained to him).
And then there is GMTV, allegedly a news organisation, at least whose output is classed as such for the purposes of regulation. Their reporter repeatedly and utterly wrongly describes the tenant as a squatter, sympathises with Ms Butler when she says that the ‘squatter’ doesn’t answer the door to her when she goes to the house, apparently without notice, except once when she went with the police (showing their usual standards in L&T issues) and who then – with Ms Butler – turns up at the property unnannounced and demands to know why the tenant is still there. After standing by as the camera delightedly films Ms Butler petulantly ranting at the tenant inside the house, the reporter then demands to know when the tenant will leave.
And, frankly, that tent was so obviously put up for the camera that it screams out in full ‘Drop the dead donkey‘ bloodstained-cuddly-toy-abandoned-in-disaster-zone style.
In the follow up GMTV section, one anchor (Sally Smedley to a tee) asks, in tones of incredulity, ‘why can’t the landlord turn up with the police, or turn the electricity off, as so many viewers have emailed to say they should do this?’. When the barrister guest explains that this is a criminal offence, the other anchor, astonished, says ‘even though it is your house?’ (The barrister, Philip Rainey QC, is not as clear as could be wished for on the question about homelessness and council rehousing, to be honest, but then Tanfield Chambers aren’t noted for their expertise in homelessness. If only GMTV had asked about leasehold enfranchisement… But he otherwise does pretty well indeed in the face of some ridiculous posturing from the anchors).
So, this is a ‘news organisation’ that, on the sole basis of a (youngish blonde) dodgy amateur landlord’s flaky, unquestioned and unsupported story, is prepared to label a lawful tenant a ‘squatter’, doorstep the the tenant together with the landlord, comprising a breach of quiet enjoyment – at the very least – and demand that the tenant tell them when she will leave the property. All the while failing to give the tenant any chance to reply and talking over and cutting out her attempts to respond. The behaviour of the anchors, being also presumably directed and partially scripted, can also be laid at the door of the ‘news organisation’ rather than the only other conclusion – that they are personally spectacularly dim and ill informed, which is never a good look for a ‘journalist’. In short, this is a ‘news organisation’ that was prepared to expend its resources in support of a landlord’s attempt to force the departure of her tenant without getting a court order through the public vilification of the tenant. And that does not bother to carry out even the most cursory checks of a) the facts and b) the law before broadcasting – on two separate occasions – their utterly wrong story.
For that reason, however unattractive a figure Ms Butler may be – and just watch that scene of her shouting at the tenant while in the house from the first video again if you need reminding of how cynical her behaviour has been – it has to be GMTV that end up on the naughty step. Other media organisations swallowed Ms Butler’s ‘squatter’ line whole. Only GMTV actually went round themselves to harrass the tenant on camera and demand she explain why she was still there. Broadcasting Standards Commission, anyone?
And for today’s game of offences, what kind of claims can we arguably see made against Ms Butler and/or GMTV?
Against Ms Butler:
Breach of quiet enjoyment, obviously.
I’d throw in breach of Protection From Harassment Act – two or more occurrences of behaviour that D knew or a reasonable person would consider likely to harass. Butler had clearly on her own account been to the property shouting and demanding entrance on a number of occasions, then turns up with the police, then with a GMTV crew who record her shouting at length at the tenant.
Protection from Eviction Act? – I’d have a shot at that. Acts likely to interfere with peace or comfort of occupier – even just telling the media the address and that the property was ‘squatted’ could have been enough, but turning up with GMTV so that she and the reporter could have a go at the tenant for not leaving? Pretty certain. Then follows ‘knows or has reasonable cause to believe that conduct is likely to cause the occupier to give up occupation..’. Ms Butler has said this was why she went to the media – to ‘speed the process up’.
Housing Act 1988 s.27? I’m a bit less sure about this. How far can the GMTV and other media be held to have acting been at Butler’s instigation or on her behalf, or even directly in consequence of her acts?
Against GMTV? – over to you all…
[Thanks to some of the posters here for links to videos etc.]
[Edit 20 August: that last link to a thread at the MSE forums has been deleted by the admins. Not clear why. There are a lot of annoyed people at the MSE forums discussing that deletion of the thread. The suggestion is that the PR person running Ms Butler’s Facebook campaign page objected to being identified. [Edit 08/09/2010. Mr Dumore has contacted me. He asserts that the MSE thread was taken down because it contained personal information about it and, he alleges, threats to him]. That would be Jeremy Dunmore. Mr Dunmore’s twitter page gives as his personal website link a blog by the ‘Ascender Group’. Mr Dumore’s twitter account has many tweets about the Butler ‘campaign’. Mr Dunmore’s public entry on linkedin [just removed, link to cached version] states he is “Founder and Managing Director of Ascender Group“:
we are an innovator in outsourced business development and marketing services structured around an SGO model our aim is to build long term strategic relationships with our clients and deliver bottom line growth enabling us to grow and prosper alongside our customers [sic]
Here is their thoroughly professional blog. Been a bit quiet lately, lately being 2010.
The company website at www.ascendergroup.co.uk (as formerly inked to from his twitter page and linkedin page) doesn’t exist, which is the kind of consummate attention to detail I look for in someone ‘interested in consulting offers and expertise requests’.]
[Edit 21/08/2010. I’ve filed a complaint with Ofcom on the GMTV reports – detail in the comments below. Any updates will be passed on].