A recession-hit family reduced to living under canvas in an Essex field have been given 28 days to move on by the Court of Appeal or face the threat of imprisonment for contempt of court.
Gwendolen and Asa Pryke, who have three teenage boys, had argued that there was a ‘humanitarian imperative’ justifying their continued occupation of land that Mrs Pryke inherited from her father off Brook Street, Dedham, near Colchester.
In dire financial straits and homeless, the family - which has connections to the village going back to the 1600s - moved into tents on the site in May 2011 ‘as an act of desperation’, their lawyers had argued. Only as winter threatened did they move three caravans that they had borrowed from friends onto the site and put in a septic tank so that they could cease borrowing toilets in the village.
However, the family's residence on the two-acre plot - once lived on by Mrs Pryke's father and where she spent her childhood – attracted the interest of Colchester Borough Council which obtained an emergency injunction against them.
The caravans remained on the site - which is in an area of outstanding natural beauty - and, in July 2011, a judge found Mr and Mrs Pryke in contempt of the injunction and sentenced them to four-month suspended prison terms.
In appealing against that order, it was argued that not enough account had been taken of the family’s human rights and that they had made every effort to find a new home but had been met by long council housing waiting lists and unaffordable private rents. The suspended prison sentences were also attacked as ‘plainly disproportionate’.
However, Lords Justice Maurice Kay and Elias dismissed Mr and Mrs Pryke's appeal and gave them 28 days to remove their caravans and septic tank from the land. The judges delayed giving full reasons for their decision.