Legal bid to end couple's caravan park nightmare

A LUXURY caravan home owner is taking legal action against a caravan park owner after discovering he is little more than a holidaymaker.

Thomas Murphy and his wife moved to the Ryan Bay Holiday Park from Southampton 18 months ago, buying a luxurious caravan for 26,000 from Sam Hagan, the Irish owner of Hagan's Leisure Ltd.

A further 6,000 was spent by the Murphy's building decking to surround their new home and other items.

But they claim the idyllic, carefree life they had dreamt of when they moved to the Park has turned into a nightmare after they discovered the caravan they bought was outside the Park's residential zone, and they were in fact only 'holidaymakers.'

The number of residential units being occupied is in excess of the Site's Licence limit, the Planning Department at the Council confirmed this week.

The total of residential units occupied on the site is 34, four above the legally allowed limit.

Mr Murphy said this week: "I knew there were 47 residential caravans occupied when I was there, but the park only has planning permission for 30. That's why I opened this can of worms.

“When I contacted the Council, they confirmed that my caravan at 7, Bay Gardens was not to be "used all year round." Therefore, I was essentially a holidaymaker, not a resident and had shelled out a fortune for the pleasure.

"The worrying thing is, is that Sam Hagan the owner is still taking on new 'residents,' he claimed.

"How many more recent or new 'residents' are happily staying on at that park, after the legal end of the summer season, unaware that their new residences are illegally occupied?"

Mr Murphy said that when he contacted Mr Hagan to tell him of his discovery he was told he would be evicted for causing trouble.

"When I spoke to Sam Hagan he told me 'I'll have you off my park.'

“My decision to leave the park was forced upon me by the lack of management control by Hagan's Leisure.

Mr Murphy, who is raising a civil action added: "Hagan is still flaunting these regulations and the Council keep fobbing me off. The Council have had to rehouse five people as a caravan is not classed as a home and so these residents can jump the housing list.

"Hagan just takes your money and when something goes wrong he can evict you if he feels like it.”

Mr Murphy continued: "Life on that park was becoming untenable. I just want justice and my money back.

"My wife and I moved here for a quiet life and it's turned into a nightmare. We've had to take out a mortgage at a time when we should be taking things easy and looking forward to the future. Instead, we have been left with practically nothing."

After contacting the Council about his findings, Mr Murphy received a reply from Philip Jones, Chief Executive of the Council, telling him that the Council does not continually monitor all caravans to ascertain whether or not they are being occupied in terms of planning permission and site licence requirements

He also said that if the caravan had not been sold, it's likely that the matter could have been resolved by the submission of a retrospective application for planning permission. But Mr Murphy feels that this is the Council's way of telling him they would have turned a blind eye to the situation.

The Council wrote this even though The Mobile Homes Act states that if there is a breach of planning permission, the local planning authority may serve an enforcement notice or stop notice, and failure to comply with such a notice is punishable by either a fine and /or imprisonment for up to two years.

A despondent Mr Murphy said: "I regret leaving the caravan as it was fully equipped with everything I needed. I had a great view and it was lovely. But if I had stayed, my life would have been made even more unbearable and I don't want to be fighting all the time. It's very depressing losing everything and having to be rehoused at my age. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. All I want now is for this Court case to begin and hopefully get back what I've worked my entire life for."

Other residents at the site have also had problems.

Five years ago, Park manager Thomas Henderson knocked on the caravan door of pensioners, Patrick Cunningham and his wife. He asked the couple if he could move their van 100 yards for operational reasons.

"We didn't mind if they had to move the van and they said they would do it themselves," says 76 year-old Patrick. However, in the process of the move, the van was dragged along the ground, the undercarriage was severely damaged and the wheels ended up horizontal rather than diagonal.

As well as this damage, the couple claim Mr Henderson appeared at the their door demanding a payment of 300 for moving the van. Mr Cunningham said: "We were quite happy with where the van was previously and it was them who asked us if they could move it. When he came to the door and asked for 300 I couldn't believe it. I sent him packing and wrote a letter to Sam Hagan, expecting him to understand what had happened and to support us."

However, five years later, the Cunningham's are no further forward, and are stuck in a caravan that can't move anywhere. The van they bought in 1997 is now practically worthless because of the damage, and Citizens Advice have told the couple that too much time has went by for anything to be resolved now.

"It has been a very distressing few years," Mr Cunningham said. "It is a very stressful situation to be in and we go to bed at night and are unable to sleep.

"We are good people and try to live as best we can but this now all seems unsolvable. We just don't know who to turn to for help. This has gone beyond a joke."

The Holiday Park was also in the news last week after a number ofresidents at the site had lodged objections to the Crofters Inn, the Park's bar, from being allowed to extend their opening hours. It's claimed that the noise is affecting the "health and education" of a young child who lives in the caravan next to the bar.

The Cunningham's were also against the extension of the Crofters Inn licence hours due to what they describe as the "colossal noise in the early hours of the morning."

Mr Hagan was unavailable for comment this week.

However, Mr Henderson has refuted the claims as "a load of lies."

“Whoever is giving you all this information is causing trouble and they should look after themselves and leave other people alone.

"As for Mr Murphy, as far as I was aware his caravan was in a residential zone. The problem was he had never stayed in a caravan before and I don't think he could adapt to the way of life. You would have to speak to Mr Hagan about that though."

editorial@gallowaygazette.com