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THE KNOCK ON THE DOOR

05-01-2009

Door

Just in time for the recession, the government’s proposing that bailiffs should have new powers to use force to recover money owed to them. Recently published guidelines already allow them unprecedented powers to break into debtors’ homes, a development which leaves Barbara Panvel appalled.

Colluding with violence abroad appears to be blunting the government's already minimal concern for its own electorate.

A recent Sunday Times article gives details of new guidelines obtained under the freedom of information laws (timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/).

Contrary to the concern expressed for those who have followed their advice to spend, spend, spend, using borrowed money to keep the casino economy moving, government is proposing wide-ranging new powers for bailiffs to break into homes and to use “reasonable force” against householders who try to protect their belongings.

Under the regulations, bailiffs for private firms will - for the first time - be given permission to restrain or pin down householders and force their way into homes to seize property to pay off debts, such as unpaid credit card bills and loans.

Reasonable grounds for breaking down the door include the “movement of a curtain”, a radio being heard or a figure being spotted inside which “may be the offender”.

Her Majesty’s Courts Service has handed out guidance to privately employed bailiffs, pointing out that under legislation passed in 2004 they can already break down doors as a last resort to collect court fines.

Some restraint should be exercised, according to the “search and entry powers” guidelines. “If a person locks himself in their home, it might be reasonable to break open the door, but probably not to smash a hole in the wall,” it advises.

Lord Bach, a junior justice minister, has assured the House of Lords that new powers will be implemented only after a consultation and be overseen by a robust industry watchdog. The Argyll News comments: “that would be like the robust authorities that should have protected MP Damian Green . . . “.

However it appears that these powers are already being used. Though it is said that homes should not be broken into when nobody is in, there have been several reports that an 89-year-old woman returned home to find a bailiff sitting in her chair with a list of her possessions.

He was seeking repayment of a parking fine owed by her son, who did not live at that address.

Has a full apology be given?

Will she be fully compensated for this illegal entry and the distress caused?

This example is far less spectacular but just as deeply disturbing as the reports of state violence alleged to have been committed – well out of sight - when MP George Galloway and others, including children, were directed by police to a London underpass on Sunday, charged by officers using batons and thrown to the ground (scotsman.com/).

Unlike most of those will suffer if these new regulations are put into force, George at least has the spirit, the means, the standing and the intellectual capacity to seek redress . . .

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