Council error leads to £9m court claim

DM152948a.jpg James Fawcus left and Bill Schiavone are claiming ?9million in a court case appeal against Worthing Borough Council, after a flawed planning application left the pair bankrupt following the collapse of their business. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-151008-162431008
DM152948a.jpg James Fawcus left and Bill Schiavone are claiming ?9million in a court case appeal against Worthing Borough Council, after a flawed planning application left the pair bankrupt following the collapse of their business. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-151008-162431008

BANKRUPTED businessmen whose lives were ‘ruined’ by a five-year battle triggered after a council blunder are seeking £9million compensation in a High Court claim.

Planning permission to extend Bill Schiavone and James Fawcus’s care home was quashed after it emerged Worthing Borough Council had made a ‘fundamental error’ in the paperwork.

W41025H10 WH CareHome  Phot Malcolm 071010  The disused care home in Winchester Road.W41025H10

W41025H10 WH CareHome Phot Malcolm 071010 The disused care home in Winchester Road.W41025H10

The duo were later refused planning permission when the application was reconsidered by councillors and were dealt a further hammer blow when they were told they had no right to compensation.

They took their case to the High Court - and lost - but have a final glimmer of hope after recruiting a top London lawyer who won them permission to appeal.

Mr Schiavone, 47, of Marine Crescent, Goring, said: “It has ruined our lives. We were left penniless when the banks pulled the plug. I had no money to buy Christmas presents and had to go round my mum’s house to beg for a few quid to buy my boys presents.”

The saga started in December, 2009, when plans were granted for the disused Ravenswood care home, in Winchester Road, Worthing.

Contracts were signed and works commenced, only for a disgruntled resident to launch a judicial review against the decision. The permission was flawed because it failed to attach a full summary of reasons and policies, which must be included by law.

The duo claim a council solicitor duped them into signing a ‘consent to quash’ order, which they thought would speed up the reconsideration of the plans, instead of fighting the lengthy judicial proceedings. The council denies the allegation.

But by signing that document, the businessmen waived the council’s liability to compensate them for their losses. They believe they could have persuaded a judge not to quash permission and even have been awarded statutory compensation.

Mr Fawcus said: “For me, it is the emotional devastation of being forced to be separated from everything I had loved and enjoyed. I miss it so much and miss having the ability to help people. This is entirely unfair.”

The care home business collapsed under the pressure of lost revenues related to the rejected plans, which were refused when they were reconsidered by the planning committee after further objections were received.

Mr Fawcus was the first to succumb to bankruptcy, while Mr Schiavone held on until May this year.

Mr Schiavone remains bankrupt, which leaves his side of the claim hanging in the balance. He said: “Now I’m bankrupt, I have no rights to justice. My creditors now own the claim, so it is up to them if they want to pursue it (to pay off my debts).”

Mr Fawcus hopes to pursue his side of the claim at the appeal in October and vowed to share any potential compensation. The duo’s hopes rest with top lawyer Michael Davey QC, who voluntarily took up the case.

Mr Schiavone said: “He was a saviour and came in at the last minute and got us the right to appeal. He is a legal hero.”

A council spokesman said: “Until the litigation is concluded, the council will be unable to comment on this matter, which is being dealt with by the council’s insurers.”

‘It would be better to die’

WHEN he collapsed amidst a major heart attack, James Fawcus wondered if it would be easier to die.

The businessman, overcome by the stress of his financial situation, delayed calling for an ambulance as he debated whether it was worth fighting for his life.

He said: “I had no history of problems before but collapsed with a heart attack two weeks after the planning appeal.

“I waited for eight minutes to call for an ambulance as I wasn’t certain as to whether it was best if I died, because I was insured.

“I was in a pool of sweat having a heart attack, thinking my clients would be secure if I died. I thought it was the right thing to do. I hadn’t slept all weekend as I was so worried about the clients.”

Mr Fawcus, 60, of Lavinia Court, Maybridge, recovered from the 2011 scare, after the planning inspectorate dismissed an appeal against the committee’s second decision.

But the ongoing legal battle has taken its toll on both him and Mr Schiavone, who fears he could lose his home because of his insolvency.

He has also had to return to his trade as a carpenter – a profession he thought he had left behind when he started his business venture – and has been forced to take his two children out of private education.

“We are hoping we are not going to lose our home but I think we are going to at some point,” he said.

The pair are claiming £9.6million losses, including an estimated £4.4million in lost income over the course of the care home’s lease.

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