Ron Knight (Image: SWNS)
A Somerset farmer has said he will “die in prison” before he pays a fine for knocking down a wall that he built 50 years ago.
Ron Knight, 88, has been in a “living nightmare” for six years since he received a planning enforcement notice from the council for removing part of a wall to allow access to his land.
He built it in 1973 but when he took part of it down in 2017 he was told the “historic” wall was in a “conservation” area and he needed planning permission.
The pensioner, who lives in Milborne Port, has now been in court four times over the issue and has racked up thousands of pounds in fines he cannot afford to pay.
In October, a judge told Mr Knight that he would face 45 days in prison unless he rebuilt the wall and repaid all fines.
Ron rebuilt part of the wall in 1973 (Image: SWNS)
But Mr Knight said he would rather be locked up “if it’s the last thing he does” than accept he has done anything wrong.
He said: “It is getting us all down. We are all sick and tired and fed up. It doesn’t matter what we say, they don’t take any notice.
“Standing up for myself and being prepared to go to jail is the only way I can see to get anyone to see sense.
“If going to prison is the last thing I do on this earth, I will do it to stop this madness.”
Mr Knight bought Cannon Court Farm with his two brothers in about 1962 and sold all but nine acres in 1990.
Rows then began with his neighbours who he claimed had “blocked access” to his land through their own developments. To allow him access, he said he had no choice but to remove part of the wall.
Ron knocked down part of the wall in 2017 (Image: SWNS)
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Somerset Council has defended its actions and refused to consider his retrospective application while enforcement action remains ongoing.
Mr Knight added: “Put politely, it’s been a bloody nuisance. After we sold, we decided to keep six acres of land and some allotments. We had right of way to go through there – it was the only way to get into it.
“It was then blocked completely. I got grandsons to help me take part of the wall down so we could go out with the tractors and everything.
“Then I had a letter to say we had broken the law by digging out a conservation area – I did not know anything about a conservation area, apparently the whole of Milborne Port was made one in 1988.
“We rebuilt that wall in 1973. They tried to argue we had taken down a historic wall, but if it’s a historic wall why was it not back exactly how it was before?”
Ron has lived with his wife Jean, 81, in Bampton, Devon, since selling the farm and said his family are concerned they might be forced to sell their home if costs continue to increase.
He added: “I have been to court four times for it and been fined over £1,000 each time. I am now being taken to court again on 22 January but I have absolutely no intention of paying any fine. I would rather go to prison than pay it and I totally mean that.”
His daughter Linda Knight said the fines had reached £3,200 but they could not afford to pay it.
“They have got nothing, and my dad said he would be prepared to spend time in jail, than pay it. The council said it won’t come to that, but he is not paying the fine, so I don’t know what is the alternative.
“It feels like victimisation. At the end of the day he took down part of a wall that belongs to him to attend to a piece of conservation land. Do they not want it looked after? How else did they think we could do that?”
Somerset Council said it was in the public interest to continue pursuing the matter, arguing that Mr Knight had caused “unjustified harm” to a protected local structure.
A spokesman said: “The retrospective planning application was asking for the same requirements as the enforcement notice. We have applied the expediency test and public interest test to each step of this case.
“We consider that the creation of the access, necessitating the demolition or removal of a wide section of the historic stonewall and associated engineering work to the land behind, fails to safeguard the established character of the conservation area and has caused unjustified harm to a designated heritage asset.”
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