Duncan Lewis Solicitors

Updates of Legal Affairs…

More than £10,000 of an average household income is going on paying rents for a British denizen

May 15th, 2012
According to FindaProperty.com households in the UK were spending on an average of over £10,000 on rents every year.


The website’s Rental Index showed the households were spending on an average of 38 per cent of their take-home income on rent, while residents in London were shelling out around 71 per cent of the average capital city income for renting property.


The report said that the average rental rate was now £868 per month, one percent more than previous year but below September 2011’s record high of £890. The average annual household income was now £27,242, meaning residents in rented homes were spending £10,416 of this each year on accommodation.


The rental costs for studio, one-bed and two-bed apartments was now at an all-time high, creating a difficult environment for tenants looking for smaller, cheaper accommodation.


Samantha Baden, property analyst at FindaProperty.com, comments that average rental prices had peaked in September of last year but have come down since then, because the rental accomodation increased in the first quarter of the year especially for bigger properties.


In contrast, smaller homes remained in limited supply and as a result, individuals and couples were still facing record asking prices for smaller flats ending up paying more of their overall household income.


In areas like London the demand is very high, reason why tenants looking for more affordable rental property should consider the impact of location as well as size.

A Home Office pilot on Domestic Violence is in its ending stage after which it will be evaluated by university academics

April 16th, 2012

A Home Office pilot which has been on trial since last year has completed its three quarter stage of its year long tenure.

The pilot being tested in Chippenham, Swindon and Salisbury has seen the Magistrates granting 10 more Domestic Viloence Protection Orders (DVPO) under the pilot to keep the perpetrators at a safe distance from their victims.

At this stage of the pilot the total numberof DVPO’s stood at 114 with 21 applications refused by the courts.

Police in Wiltshire, Greater Manchester and West Mercia began testing the so-called ‘Go orders’ last July.

The pilot, due to end on June 30, is being evaluated by university academics.

Since the trial started, magistrates have granted 90 orders for the maximum 28 days, one for 25 days, 10 for 21 days and 13 for 14 days.

Fifty-four DVPOs have been issued to perpetrators in Swindon, 31 in the area served by Chippenham magistrates and 29 in and around Salisbury.

Detective Inspector Matt Stone, the Force lead on domestic abuse, said that the DVPO pilot, and the wider work of the Domestic Abuse Investigation Team, was  contributing to the goal of keeping Wiltshire people out of harm’s way.

He said that his team continued with the successfully application of DVPOs to enable victims of abuse to seek the support they needed from the fore and its partner agencies.

Together they were using number of methods to help the victims break free from the abuse they were subjected to.

Emphasising the importance of the DVPO’s Stone said that they had already begun provisional work with the evaluators to assess the impact of its trial by ensuring that everyone at the address of a domestic violence scene were safe. Some officers were also equipped with body worn video cameras to record the scene.

Sometimes there was not enough evidence to charge the perpetrator with a criminal offence but on the balance of probabilities a superintendent decides whether the victim is at risk of further violence so that they can be authorised a Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) A DVPN excludes the perpetrator from the address, or from approaching or molesting the victim, for 48 hours. Officers then seek a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) from magistrates.

Labour MP wants the trial of suspected terrorist Babar Ahmad should be conducted in the UK

April 16th, 2012

Labour’s justice spokesman Sadiq Khan has said that the terror suspect Babar Ahmad should be charged in the United Kingdom instead of being extradited to the US to face terrorism charges the Guardian has learnt.

The British prosecutors admitted that they were not putting Ahmad on trial after examining some of the evidence against him eventhough a major part of the evidence was collected by the British police.

The Human Rights Court had ruled for the extradition of Babar Ahmad alongwith other four men charged on various terrorrist offences. They are being held in Britain.

Ahmad has been accused  by the US of running a website called Azzam Publications and provided support to terrorists and was involved in a conspiracy to kill.

Sadiq Khan representing the constituency of Tooting in South London is the MP for Ahmad and another man Syed Talha Ahsan who is also facing extradition to the US.

He wrote a letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May  saying that all the material evidence was not viewed by the Crown Prosecution Service while majority of it was sent to the United States authorities without ensuring whether the case could be dealt in the UK itself. He added that the home office need to satisfy whether  proper procedures were followed at all stages or not.

He stated in another letter to the attorney general that it was clear that the bulk of the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan police was provided directly to the US authorities without the CPS reiviewing it.

Ahmad’s family and lawyers had always believed the CPS had viewed all the evidence before deciding not to bring charges in the UK, which left the way open for the US extradition attempt.

But last November the CPS wrote to them to say only “a small number of documents seized by the Metropolitan police were submitted for advice”. The letter was from Sue Hemming, head of the CPS’s counter-terrorism division. The same letter said that the CPS had not considered any evidence in charging Ahsan.

Lawyers for the men facing extradition to the are considering an appeal to the grand chamber of the European court. Judges last week decided that the length of sentences the men faced, and conditions of detention in a Supermax prison in Colorado with extensive periods of solitary confinement, did not amount to inhumane treatment or torture as defined by article three of the European convention on human rights.

A study by the country’s biggest Estate Agent company has raised fears that younger generation were on the verge of being pushed out of the housing market

April 16th, 2012

Grenville Turner, the head of the Countrywide UK’s largest estate agent has again appealed to the government to get involved and see to it that future generations are prevented from being priced out of owning a house of their own.

 He said that the UK could become a country of renters after a survey commissioned by the company found out that almost half of 18 to 34 year olds said that the biggest hurdle was to raise a deposit to buy a property.

 Turner said that the country was at crossroads for home ownership, and the next generation was in the verge of becoming renters if government did not take the right action very soon.

 On an average a home owner moves house once every 25 years which was once every 12 years in the past. It was not sustainable and there was a need to support a strong and vibrant housing market which contributes to GDP growth and plays a major part in improving the economy he said.

 His comments came as Countrywide, which has 1,300 offices in the UK, unveiled a poll on the public’s attitudes to the housing market.

 The survey of 6,000 people found that of those respondents not moving home, 21% said the reason was inability to afford a deposit, 16% said they could not afford mortgage repayments, and 16% said barriers included moving costs, such as stamp duty.

 Only 32% of private rental tenants said they were happy where they lived. Countrywide has claimed that a recovery of the housing market was “fundamental to economic recovery”.

 The company has called on the chancellor, George Osborne, to introduce mortgage relief for first-time buyers, to set tough mortgage lending targets for banks and introduce incentives for development projects.

 While Countrywide’s position has struck a chord with many, the call has followed a tough period of business for estate agents. Profits within Countrywide’s estate agency business have dropped from £79m in 2006 to £26m in 2010, the last time it published results.

 Other surveys suggest there are improvements in housing affordability.
Halifax, now part of the Lloyds Banking Group, said affordability has improved for public-sector workers in the past four years. According to it, a study of five public-sector services found the average worker could afford a home in 41% of the UK’s towns compared with 3% of towns when house prices had touched peak in September 2007.

 The study, using figures from the Office for National Statistics, examined the average earnings of nurses, teachers, police, firefighters and paramedics, and average house prices across Britain.

 Nelson, Lancashire, was named the most affordable town for public-sector workers, followed by Bootle,Merseyside, and Darwen, Lancashire.

 Richard Donnell, the director of research at Hometrack, said: “The rise in private rents has been driven by growing tenant demand and a shortage of supply. With no major improvements in mortgage availability likely in the near future rental demand is set to remain strong. There is however a limit as to how high rents can go as affordability constraints continue to squeeze household budgets.”

A healthcare company is making its employees sign documents which has the basic terms of the Official Secrets Act to curb whistle blowing

April 13th, 2012

The private healthcare company Atos which performs the controversial sickness benefit assessments has confirmed that it gets commitments from its medical staff by making them sign the Official Secrets Act for any government work it undertakes.

They defend their actions amid the concerns that someone might become a whistleblower.

Atos Healthcare admitted that the doctors and nurses are asked to sign a document which has the basic terms of the Official Secrets Act despite not bound by the terms of the Act.

Raising concerns with The Guardian and online political blog Liberal Conspiracy when the company asked them to sign the document seeking their obligations under the OSA.

The doctors believed that it was to stop people in the company from reporting the issues concerning patient safety and proper conduct of medical assessments.

Though it was not likely that medical staff would be prosecuted under the OSA for speaking out about patient safety issues still the doctors say it may make the staff more reluctant to come forward.

Atos, a French-owned healthcare and IT company, carries out assessment for the government to help determine whether claimants are eligible for sickness benefits and are  being paid more than £100 million a year.

The process has been under some controversy since it began to be piloted under the last government and it  complaints escalated once the system began retesting all Incapacity Benefit claimants last April, to assess whether they should receive the new Employment and Support Allowance.

One doctor who joined Atos last summer said that all medical health professionals, MHPs are required to sign the document. The doctor, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said. That he was not surprised when he was told that everybody had to sign the OSA.

Atos has said that it had other contracts with public bodies which require its employees working with those bodies to sign the OSA.

Atos added that it has one blanket security policy across the company and this was why doctors working with the Department for Work and Pensions’ assessment process were also being made to sign a statement saying they were aware of the terms of the Act.

He said that they provided services to a number of clients and in line with their best practice security policy, they ask employees who handle confidential information as part of its work with public clients to sign a set of security compliance forms including the Official Secrets Act declaration form.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told the Guardian that the department was not aware that Atos employees were being made to sign the OSA.

Convicted murderer Levi Bellfield’s mother and stepfather charged for harassing his ex partner

April 13th, 2012

Jean Bellfield and John Lee the mother and stepfather of the triple murderer Levi Bellfield are going to stand trial for allegedly harassing the killer’s former partner and her family. They were accused of deliberately driving past Emma Mill’s home on several occasions.

They were also charged with intimidating Miss Mill’s mother’s home and the school where one of her children went.

A date for the pair’s trial was set by magistrates, despite Bellfield not yet entering a plea to the single charge.

Proceedings had been adjourned from March 28 because 75-year-old Bellfield was too sick to attend and magistrates instructed that she must be at court in person on Thursday.

However, counsel for both defendants, told the court that she suffered from emphysema and other problems and that she was ill again on Thursday.

Bellfield and 72-year-old Lee are jointly charged under section two of the Protection from Harassment Act 1977 that between September 14 last year and January 7 this year, at Esher in Surrey, they pursued a course of conduct which amounted to harassment of Emma Mills, and which they knew or would have known amounted to harassment.

The charge specifies that on September 14 they ‘deliberately drove past the home address of Emma Mills’, an act allegedly repeated three days later and then again on two unspecified occasions between September 27 and 29.

On January 5 this year they were apparently spotted in Farm Road, in Esher, close to Emma Mill’s home and also near to Esher High School, where one of the victim’s children was a pupil at the time.

Two days after that they were alleged to have been near the home of Emma Mills’ mother, Gillian.

The counsel for the defendants asked for magistrates to proceed with the case against Lee but adjourn the matter in Bellfield’s case so that defence solicitors could consult with her doctors and try to get instructions from her.

Darren Matravers, prosecuting at Staines Magistrates Court, Surrey, said he had no objection in principle to the proposed course of action.

Presiding Magistrate Malcolm Bond ordered that a trial date be set down for July 2, at Staines, to be continued on July 5.

He released Lee on bail on the same conditions as before.

Both the defendants, who live together in Feltham, Middlesex, are banned from entering four named roads in Esher and from contacting Miss Mills, her mother and a neighbour, all of whom are prosecution witnesses.

A newly licensed teenager causes death of his two friends by driving dangerously

April 13th, 2012

A seventeen years old beginner who admitted causing deaths of two of his friends after he clipped the kerbs, drove over the roundabouts and sped at 85mph was jailed for five years at the Tesside Crown Court.

Arseng Rashid of Ingleby Barwick, Teesside, who was showing off in his mother’s car lost control after driving dangerously over two kerbs and two roundabouts which caused the Toyota Corolla Verso to overturn on the A66 in Stockton on September last.

He admitted two counts of death by dangerous driving after his 17 year old school mates Josh Hopkins and Joshua Stevenson, who were trapped in the car died in the crash.

Two other friends, who had been driven around Teesside for hours before the smash some time before 6am, were also injured and have lasting mental scars, Teesside crown court heard.

Some 20 minutes before the fatal crash, he overtook a furious taxi driver at 85-90mph in a 30mph zone, Christine Egerton, prosecuting, said.

Few minutes later, he was caught on a CCTV camera driving the 2.2-litre diesel on the wrong side of the road at 68mph in Yarm Road, where the speed limit was 30mph.

Rashid had passed his driving test only 10 weeks before he killed his friends.
The teenagers except Rashid, the prosecution accepted, had earlier stopped to smoke cannabis, the court heard. The teenager also later passed a roadside breath test.

The friends were on their way to a McDonalds at Teesside Park, via the A66, when Rashid went straight over two mini roundabouts.
One of the surviving teenagers later told police Rashid had said that should he go straight over or round?”

The car clipped two kerbs, and as Rashid lost control it flipped over. There was no evidence of any braking.

Hopkins, in the front passenger seat, and Stevenson, sitting behind him, were both unconscious but alive after the smash. They died at the scene.

Judge Peter Fox, the recorder of Middlesbrough, said Rashid had deliberately and intentionally driven dangerously.

He told the defendant that he affected the lives of many.

Rashid was sentenced to five years, starting in a young offender institution, and was banned from driving for five years, after which he must take an extended test.

The new rules on mortgages by FSA may see more number of ‘mortgage prisoners’

April 4th, 2012

A report by the consumer panel of Financial Services Authority (FSA), Britain’s financial regulator, has warned about the controversial new rules of its own parent body.

It said that millions of homeowners were in danger of becoming mortgage prisoner from next year trapped by loans they availed during the boom period.

The report stated that the new rules by the FSA which is suppose to revolutionize the mortgage market from next summer was in fact going to make the current tight lending market even worse resulting in the increase in the numbers of mortgage prisoners.

A “mortgage prisoner” is someone who is trapped in an existing mortgage deal who faces rejection by all financiers including his own when his current mortgage deal comes to an end and he needs to re-mortgage.

This could be people with small deposit, who have opted an interest only deal, or whose loan is larger than the value of their home (negative equity).

When the mortgage market was seeing a boom many had taken out a loan but the new rules are not going to allow them to re-mortgage their current deal once it comes to an end.

The report has raised fears on how these mortgages would cope under the new rules and the treatment it would receive by the banks.

It has warned that the current market, which has become difficult for the first time buyers to get a mortgage and those with existing ones finding it difficult to move elsewhere, would worsen.

The FSA in its own assessment has said that it estimates that nearly half of all borrowers who took loans between 2005 and 2011 could become mortgage prisoners.

According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders during that period 10.5 million loans to buy a home or to re mortgage an existing property were given.

The report also warned that the new measures were not giving any signs of preventing these consumers from being charged a higher rate of interest by their lenders because they are not able to re mortgage elsewhere.

Adam Phillips, chairman of the Financial Services Consumer Panel, said amid these concerns the new rules must not be introduce unless banks and building societies are forced to treat the mortgage prisoners sympathetically.

The FSA expects the new rules to be introduced in 2013, but insists that they will not become law until the housing market is in better, stronger shape.

Traumatized soldier who killed his landlady cleared of murder instead convicted for murder

April 4th, 2012

A war veteran who had killed his landlady on return from Afghanistan was cleared of murder after the jury decided that he was traumatized by the war.

Aaron Wilkinson, 24, was convicted for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished resonsibility.

The court was told that Wilkinson had blown away Judith Garnett, 52, at point blank range with a shotgun when she ordered him to vacate the house they shared.

The court was told how he had become obsessed with guns after his six months in Afghanistan not having fired a single bullet and that he may have committed the crime only to see how it was like to kill someone.

The prosecution claimed Wilkinson was a cold-blooded murderer, but a jury at Bradford Crown Court decided he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as Asperger’s syndrome, and was not in control of his actions.

Mother-of-two Mrs Garnett ran a game farm and Wilkinson worked for her and lived at her home in Woodlesford, near Leeds. She had taken him in a decade earlier when he was homeless after being thrown out by his mother, and treated him like a member of the family.

The court heard Wilkinson had been in the Territorial Army since he was a teenager but was a changed man when he returned from a tour of duty in May 2010.

Mrs Garnett’s son, Andrew Garnett, 27, said that after coming back from Afghanistan he seemed really into guns, big bangs and blowing stuff to bits.

After shooting Mrs Garnett he dialled 999 and told the operator that he had done something absolutely terrible in a moment of madness.

Wilkinson could not explain why he shot Mrs Garnett and said it was as if he was in a ‘trance It sort of just went black and white and hazy at times. He said that it was like he just turned into a mad man and felt like somebody he never was.

Psychiatrists told the court his mental conditions meant Mrs Garnett’s order to move out was a ‘catastrophic’ rejection to him.

The court heard the combination of Asperger’s and PTSD left him unlikely to be able to exercise self-control.

Sentencing was adjourned for psychiatric reports to decide if Wilkinson remained a danger to the public. He was remanded in custody.

A teacher who lied and claimed benefits for disability has won a case for unfair dismissal but her compensation was reduced to 100 percent

April 4th, 2012

A teacher who won her case for unfair dismissal has won her case in an employment tribunal but was told she would not receive any compensation as she had lied.

She had lied about an accident and had taken six years off sick on full pay. She had claimed that a teaching assistant who went into an epileptic fit had fallen on her and trapped her on the floor leaving her with chest, neck and spinal injuries.

An investigation conducted by the Dearne Carrfield Primary School in Bolton on Dearne, South Yorkshire had concluded that no such mishap had taken place but when she returned for work for a brief while she was struck by a bus and stopped coming to the school since 2004.

Anna Yerrakalva, who was on a full pay of about £30,000 a year was suspended in the year 2009 and sacked in January next for gross misconduct.

Her pay while off sick has been estimated at around £180,000 and the council’s legal bill was believed to have exceeded £120,000.

The total bill on the taxpayer over the case stood around £300,000. The 58 year old widow and mother of two had taken off sick since 2003 November for the alleged accident.

But still the tribunal decided that the school governors and her employer, Barnsley Council, were responsible for an act of victimization on grounds of disability and had dismissed her unfairly by not giving her an opportunity to return to work and to take the normal course of dealing with her grievances under the rules.

The case went in her favour as there was a technical default on the parts of the school and council authorities who if, had followed the regular procedure would have seen her removed fair and squarely the employment judge Stephen Shore said. He added that her compensation for unfair dismissal was being reduced to 100 per cent as she told a series of lies and that her testimonial credibility was in tatters.

The Sheffield tribunal heard Mrs Yerrakalva had been claiming disability living allowance and industrial injury benefit in 2006 and 2007 yet at the same time told her employers that she was fit to return to work.

Her astonishing list of 26 symptoms in her benefits claim forms included finding it difficult to peel vegetables, open the curtains and turn on the taps.

The Judge said she was a ‘thoroughly unreliable witness’ and the account of her accident at work ‘wholly inconsistent’.