Chaos at Camden Town Hall as High Court bailiffs seize council computers to repay debt to resident
08:00 30 September 2014
Officers from Camden Council were left red-faced after High Court bailiffs gained entry to the town hall and began seizing thousands of pounds worth of council-owned TVs, computers and printers to repay money owed to a resident.
Staff were left in an extraordinary stand-off with bailiffs last Wednesday when enforcement officers came knocking at the door of council offices in Argyle Street to demand more than £7,700.
The money was owed to Stephen Gethin, the owner of the HappyVale Hotel, Mornington Crescent, after the council repeatedly failed to pay rent owed to him for tenants receiving housing benefit.
Taking his claim to the county court and then High Court – where the council failed to turn up – the judge found the claim in his favour and issued a writ to seize property or goods.
After the High Court instructed bailiffs to be sent into the council town hall, enforcement officers arrived and following “persistent knocking” were met by contractors tasked with moving council equipment to the new Camden Council offices in St Pancras Square.
Informed that the building had been vacated three months prior, the bailiff proceeded to seize property, including several LCD TVs, multiple computers, monitors and printers.
It led to a security guard quickly arriving on scene who informed the council’s head lawyer.
The bailiff said it was “after some discussion” with the legal chief that the council’s assistant director of finance eventually emerged, arriving with over £7,671 in cash to hand to the enforcement officer.
Mr Gethin, who recently had the management of his HappyVale Hotel, in Harrington Square, taken over by Camden Council due to the property being left in disrepair, told the Ham&High: “They’ve owed this money to me for a long time and this was the only way I was going to get it back.
“I think I might be one of the first people to send bailiffs to the council. They didn’t bother to turn up to the court case so they’ve only got themselves to blame.
“It’s ironic because it’s exactly what they do to other residents who fail to pay their council tax or parking fines on time.
“This is giving them a taste of their own medicine.”
In a furious letter sent to Mr Gethin the following day, the council’s lawyers described his action as “shocking” and said his claim was “unfounded”.
Ending in a bizarre twist, solicitors Judge and Priestley then demanded Mr Gethin give them consent to retrieve the money from the bailiffs - something the hotelier says he has no plans to do.
The original amount owed to Mr Gethin was £6,000 but by the end of the debacle it had ballooned to cover fees, leaving council tax payers forking out an extra £1,671.
A Camden Council spokesman said: “We can confirm that on Wednesday a High Court enforcement officer attended the town hall to enforce a county court judgement.
“Camden disputes the sums involved and is taking legal advice.
“In the circumstances we do not consider it appropriate to comment further.”