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Expat couple win 'hollow victory' over house demolition

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Expat couple win 'hollow victory' over house demolition
Len and Helen Prior at the gates of their bulldozed villa. Photo: AUAN
17:48 CEST+02:00
The British couple who have been living in a garage since their dream villa was demolished over so-called planning irregularities eight years ago have won their bid for compensation. But they are not happy about it.

Len and Helen Prior, both 72, made headlines when in 2008 they became the first British home owners in Spain to see their property demolished over so called "planning irregularities".

Last week, after an eight year legal battle, during which they have been camping out on the plot of their flattened villa, they finally got the court ruling they had been waiting for.

A court ruled that their local town hall had been wrong to send in the bulldozers and ordered Vera council to pay them compensation of €425,185.43 plus interest.

“Unfortunately it simply isn't enough, considering we asked for €600,000 in compensation for the house and €200,000 for moral damages we have suffered.” Mrs Prior told The Local on Monday.

“We have been fighting through the courts for over eight years so once we have paid our legal bills we will only have pennies left.”

The nightmare started one morning in January 2008 when the couple saw a bulldozer approaching the gate of the beautiful two-storey villa they had built in a rural part of Vera, on Spain's Almeria coast.

Because despite having the correct planning permission from their villa from the town hall, the regional government of Andalusia had revoked the licence and ordered it to be town down

They were given just a few hours to remove their belongings from the villa, ironically named “Tranquillidad” in the expectation that it was here the couple would peacefully spend their retirement after selling up in Wokingham Berkshire and relocating to sunnier climes.

Instead, they were powerless as they watched their dream turn into a nightmare. Mr Prior collapsed as the bulldozer moved in and they watched the €400,000 villa reduced to rubble.

“We worked hard all our lives to enjoy our retirement and instead we have endured a hell," Mrs Prior said. 

Since the demolition the couple have been living in a garage on the plot with a collection of rescued dogs while they battled their case through Spain's complicated justice system and blame was passed between town hall and regional planning authorities.

Despite a ruling by Spain's constitutional court ruling that declared that their house had been demolished illegally it has taken until now for the couple to win compensation.

But they have yet to see any money.

“We have been told that Vera town hall can appeal the decision to award us compensation so we could still be in for months more legal process before we even see any of that money,” admitted a resigned Mrs Prior.

“It won't make any difference now anyway as once the legal bills have been paid we won't be able to afford to go back to the UK or buy anything else here.”

The couple have been instrumental in ensuring that no similar fate will befall other homeowners.

Last July they saw Spain's lawmakers introduce legislation to protect homeowners who bought in good faith from having their homes demolished until compensation was agreed in advance.

The couple, who are grandparents to six and have three young great-grandchildren, said the compensation ruling has brought them no solace at all.

“We still can't believe this happened to us. There are a hundred houses around us in the same situation yet we are the only ones his happened to. It's fair to say that it has utterly ruined our lives.”

The AUAN, the pressure group representing hundreds of expat homeowners in the Almeria region whose properties have been declared illegal called for the state to finally do right by the Priors.

“Enough is enough. The Calvary of the Priors had lasted for nearly ten years. They did nothing wrong except to trust the Spanish State and its legal system,” demanded Maura Hillen, a local councillor and president of AUAN.  

“Now is the time to pay them and to put an end to their odyssey, which is so harmful and damaging for them and for everyone who lives here,” she said.

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