Two thugs have been found guilty of stealing the mobile home of park home activist Sonia McColl OBE at Exeter crown court this afternoon.
Darren Baseley, 47, of Henrys Run, Cranbrook, and Stewart Gregory, 43, of Aldershot Road, Normandy, Surrey, were found guilty this afternoon of the theft, which took place in November 2017.
The two inside goons stole the mobile home – which was not insured – while it was being moved to be sited near the home of Sonia’s daughter. The court was in little doubt that this was a put-up job.
The court heard that haulage manager Baseley made a phone calls to TS Haulage last year threatening to implicate the company in the theft unless they helped pay his legal fees.
The calls were recorded and he was heard describing himself as sly and sneaky and saying he had not expected so much police interest. He said:
“I thought it was just going to be a crime number. It was just a crappy caravan and an old biddy. I didn’t know she had an OBE and some weight behind her.”
Gregory was the driver of the vehicle that made off with the mobile home.
Leasehold is unappetising enough, but on the whole the unsavoury characters in it and the bullying lawyers who serve them confine themselves to white collar intimidation. Acts of blatant violence and crimes against person are rare: they are widespread in the park home world, which are often retirement properties.
Before the theft of her home, Sonia had suffered gangs waking her up in the middle of the night and arson attacks.
The fuller background of this crime are here:
After the theft, LKP invited Sonia to address the All Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold – of which we are the secretariat – and raised £14,600 through an appeal. The APPG on park homes is run by the park homes trade body in yet another example, if one were needed, of the corrosive influence of commercial lobbyists on Parliament.
Sonia provided this statement this afternoon:
At last. After almost four years, suffering homelessness, a lot of stress, anxiety, insults, deformation of character and having to fight every step of the way for justice … THE VERDICT IS GUILTY
Darren Baseley GUILTY OF THEFT
Stewart Gregory GUILTY OF THEFT
Darren Baseley NOT GUILTY OF BLACKMAIL
Sentencing is expected to be at Exeter Crown Court on July 2nd 2021.
I will be there and will read out my Impact Statement before sentencing – and I can’t wait to see their wicked evil faces in the Dock.
This has been such a long road – but made so much easier by my amazing family, friends and so many wonderful park home residents.
Special thanks to my good friend Tony Turner for his unstinting daily support. Sebastian O’Kelly, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, and all at LKP (Leasehold Knowledge Partnership) The Westminster Circle, Justice Minister Robert Buckland MP, Richard Drax MP, detective Kirsty Wilson, Paul Baker and all at PB Insurance and last but not least, the late Lord Graham of Edmonton.
Although I admit to being very tired, I hope this verdict sends a clear message to anyone who might attempt to damage/hurt a park home resident.
More importantly, I hope this verdict will go some way to help any resident faced with similar problems.
Just dig your heals in, fight and refuse to allow anyone to blight your life. I was frightened and it was difficult but I refused to listen to threats about giving up the Justice Campaign and together we have now all achieved the review of the 10% Commission Charge and RPI to CPI has been promised.
Basically, we legally stopped sale blocking and have achieved everything we set out to achieve. I hope that you are all justifiably proud of yourselves.
I will keep attending the APPG, for Park Homes, run Park Help Line and inform you all of progress on the 10% and RPI to CPI – but I hope you will understand that I need a little rest and relaxation. Once again my very sincere thanks for your support – and onwards and upwards.
Love from Sonia
Park home campaigner Tony Turner comments on the theft
So, this trial is now over, two men convicted of theft and awaiting sentencing – but let`s remember that the home was never recovered and the recipient was not identified by the thieves. Neither did they reveal the place to which the home was delivered.
Nor should we forget the beginnings. The facts are, that the home was owned by someone who simply decided to bring people together with a view to preventing cross-county fraudulent sales blocking – but not one of those responsible for interfering with the sales processes upon which many operators built their empires has ever been held to account. That was the origins of this case, they all got away with it – and this is just one example of where it led.It’s not an uncommon theme. Fraud is taken seriously by the Courts – but it first has to be investigated by the police and where such events continue to be seen as civil matters, further down the line, it’s the consequences of inaction that lead to yet further crime.
If those responsible for fraudulent sales blocking had been brought before the criminal courts, the profits to be made would not have been so great, that the forms of threats that first drove Sonia from her home and the need to seek sanctuary in an annex on her family’s land, would never have arisen. Comparisons can be made with the selling of new homes that are in breach of planning controls, where although more councils are now taking action, such sales are nonetheless usually fraudulent, the profits high, the prolific offenders making millions and just as in the recent case, leaving the victims distraught and potentially homeless. But again, no-one we know of and report upon has so far been brought before the criminal courts, the offences apparently seen as civil disputes.
So what is the difference? Civil law is different from criminal law. It’s concerned with the rights and property of individual people or organisations, which may not always be protected by criminal laws. Civil law settles disputes between individuals and organisations and often involves compensation being awarded. No one is sent to prison in a civil case, but they may be left out of pocket if they’re found liable to pay compensation. Criminal law essentially relates to offences and breaches that negatively affect society, as opposed to just one person. This area of the law is defined by what Acts of Parliament deem to be acceptable or unacceptable conduct. If a person breaches criminal law, they’re subject to criminal prosecution by the state, usually brought by the Crown Prosecution Service in the name of the Crown, to be heard in a Magistrates or the Crown Court, where if convicted, the offender receives the penalty laid out in the relevant legislation and sentencing guidelines. The issue here is that criminality in the Park Homes market is usually seen as a civil dispute, the penalties dwarfed by the profits already secured and therefore no deterrent. Fraud is one example where it would be easy to blame the police – But according to a report published as recently as April 2021, it was revealed that in the UK, fraud accounts for more than 50% of reported crime; yet less than 1% of police time is spent investigating it, therefore the overall conclusion was that fraud was not being taken seriously by the government and law enforcement, and that it is seen as “everybody’s problem but nobody’s priority.” This is why we have devoted more and more space to such events. One form of financial crime leads to another – so as we said from the start, there must be more criminal prosecutions.
Tinkering with the Mobile Homes Act and introducing new measures that are not to be additionally resourced and therefore unlikely to be enforced is not the answer. The answer is criminal prosecutions, sending the message that whilst the financial benefits accrued from criminality can be high, ultimately there can be a bigger price to be paid.
This is where the focus should be and although this case was prosecuted under the Theft Act, the frequently fraudulent trading practices of known park owners should also face criminal prosecutions. Time inside would clean up the market far quicker and more effectively than any amendment to the Mobile Homes Act – And this is where the future focus should be. Meanwhile, we should applaud the determination of one woman to see justice done. If more did the same, far fewer people would be in the place they are in and the offenders would have time to reflect upon the miseries they have caused. In this successful prosecution, we will hopefully see for just how long.