Judge Dismisses Southfields Man's Claim to Be Freeman of the Land

Faces jail if he doesn't pay fine for building ramshackle extension in his garden

A man from Southfields who claimed he was exempt from planning regulations because he was a ‘Freeman of the Land’ has been fined and threatened with jail if he doesn’t pay up.

Phoutone Siharath had erected a ramshackle rear extension to his two-storey home in Arnal Crescent. Measuring eight metres in length, four metres in width and nearly four metres in height, and described as looking like something from a favela, the home-made extension had been built without planning permission from Wandsworth Council or building regulations approval.

The roof had been turned into a mini allotment and Mr Siharath was frequently seen standing on the roof watering and tending his plants. This gave him a direct view into his neighbours' bedrooms.

He had to be brought to court by the police who'd executed a court-issued warrant for his arrest because he had failed to attend court on numerous occasions.

And when he finally appeared he insisted he was 'a Freeman of the land' who was not bound by any laws introduced by Government or Parliament.

The jury heard that as soon as the council learned about the extension, it wrote to Mr Siharath and told him it had to be taken down. Their letters were repeatedly ignored, resulting in formal enforcement action and ultimately prosecution.

The court was told that the extension 'consists of various timber sections which have been affixed to one-another in an ad-hoc fashion. It has a ramshackle favela like appearance with no apparent over-all design. Its size and massing are substantial… (and)…. taken as a whole the design is wholly substandard and causes visual harm to the host building and the surrounding area.

'The roof is frequently used as an allotment with the occupant spending time gardening attending to the items being grown there. This results in severe and direct overlooking into the first-floor windows of the adjoining properties, seriously undermining their privacy and reasonable enjoyment of their properties. What is more the unacceptable visual appearance of the extension also has a negative effect on the neighbour's outlook.'

And after being convicted of the offence, Mr Siharath refused to tell the court his financial circumstances and failed to attend two subsequent court hearings for sentencing. He was eventually sentenced in his absence on 6 December. The judge fined him £15,000 and ordered him to pay the council's prosecution costs of £7,586. The judge who sentenced him said he would go to jail for three months if he didn't pay.

Passing sentence the judge said Mr Siharath had caused significant disruption and costs to his neighbours and the public purse. He also signalled that the council could also obtain an order allowing it to demolish the extension itself and present Mr Siharath with the bill.

Planning chairman Cllr Guy Humphries said: 'This resident has shown a complete lack of care or consideration towards his neighbours who have been subjected to one of the worst eyesore extensions I have ever come across. This rickety and tumbledown construction, made with odd bits of timber and other incongruous materials, looms over their gardens giving him an unfettered view right into their bedrooms. It is not an extension that any planning authority in the land could ever consent to.

'Mr Siharath could have realised his error, accepted he'd caused harm and visual intrusion to his neighbour's properties some time ago and resolved this affair with much less fuss. Sadly he chose not to in the mistaken belief that the laws of the land did not apply to him.

'The judge and jury disagreed and now he has been presented with a big fine and the threat of a jail term if he doesn't pay up. And if he doesn't now remove this unwelcome monstrosity from his back garden the council will do the job and present him with another substantial bill.'

December 18, 2019

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