Tag Archives: canal & river trust

A real charity case

Below is a press release from the National Bargee Travellers Association. Please share the link, this story needs to be in the public eye so that people understand what a donation to ‘charity’ Canal & River Trust means in practice. This situation is sick, and only widespread public condemnation will bring this outfit into line. It is my personal opinion that there is nothing charitable about the Canal & River Trust and that their behaviour is a affront.

Waterways Charity demand £76,000 from disabled boater denied Legal Aid

Following a Section 8 case, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is bringing further court proceedings to obtain over £76,000 it claims it spent on legal action against disabled boat dweller George Ward. Mr Ward’s Legal Aid covered advice but he was unable to obtain Legal Aid for representation in court. If he had been represented through Legal Aid, CRT would not be able to make this claim for legal costs.

CRT is aware that Mr Ward’s only income is Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance of £102 per week. He has been unable to work since an injury that left him disabled. Mr Ward’s only assets are his home, a pair of historic boats needing extensive repair work that he bought for £3,830. If CRT is successful in enforcing its costs order, it can petition for Mr Ward’s bankruptcy which means his boats can be sold to pay the costs, leaving him homeless. Much of the £76,000 CRT claims to have spent was used to pay the QC, Christopher Stoner, who unusually for this type of case, represented CRT in case management hearings as well as at the main trial. According to CRT’s Bill of Costs, Mr Stoner’s fees amount to almost £45,000.

BW/CRT started Section 8 proceedings in 2010 after Mr Ward was unable to get a Boat Safety Certificate in time to re-license his motor boat. On the day that he got the Certificate, BW issued the Section 8. During the court proceedings BW prevented him from re-licensing his butty boat, claiming that its licence depended on the motor boat being licensed, which was not true as both boats had been licensed independently. Mr Ward attempted to licence his boats several times but each time BW sent back his cheque, even when he tendered all the money BW alleged he owed including a disputed Late Payment Fee of £150.

Mr Ward eventually bought a second motor boat for £1,100 and tried to license the two boats not subject to Section 8 proceedings, but BW again returned his cheque. Shortly before the hearing in Bristol County Court in October 2012, he sold the first motor boat, using the proceeds to repair his second motor boat. The court granted the Section 8 but this was nullified by the fact that the boat had a new owner. The Judge declined CRT’s request to apply the Section 8 to any other boats belonging to Mr Ward and did not grant CRT the injunction it wanted to evict him from its 2,000 miles of waterways for ever. An injunction could have meant that Mr Ward risked being sent to prison simply for living on the two boats that had never been subject to Section 8 proceedings.

George Ward said “CRT’s move to take over £76,000 from me that they know I don’t have is vindictive and malicious. They are determined to hound me off the waterways. They failed with the Section 8, they failed to get an injunction, so they are trying another way to make me homeless”. He continued “This is harassment, they are trying to put psychological pressure on me so that I move off the canals. They won’t succeed, except over my dead body”.

CRT knows that if Mr Ward had obtained Legal Aid for representation in court it would not have been able to claim these costs from Mr Ward. There is no realistic prospect of recovering £76,000 from a 54-year-old disabled man on benefits whose only assets are worth less than £4,000. Civil court costs cannot be recovered through deductions from welfare benefits. Neither can costs be recovered from money paid to the same organisation for another purpose. CRT is aware that pursuing Mr Ward for this debt will make him homeless.

CRT could have allowed Mr ward to re-license his boat when he obtained the Boat Safety Certificate, and could have sought to recover the disputed late payment charge as a Small Claim. CRT could also have used its discretion under Section 17(11) of the British Waterways Act 1995 to permit his boat to be on the waterways without a Boat Safety Certificate until the certificate was obtained. Instead it vindictively pursued him with a Section 8 action and rejected all his attempts to pay.

In the absence of a Solicitor to represent him, Mr Ward was assisted in court by Nick Brown, Legal Officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA). This was necessary partly because Mr Ward found the court hearings extremely distressing. In a move that was obviously intended to intimidate Mr Brown and silence the NBTA, CRT also sought a costs order against Mr Brown. The Judge rejected this, stating in the Judgement that Mr Brown had been “helpful and polite”.

The Royal Courts of Justice provides guidance regarding “McKenzie Friends” (unqualified assistants for people in court without a legal representative). Nowhere does this guidance include a warning that a McKenzie Friend is at risk of a costs order against them for helping someone who would otherwise face court proceedings alone and unassisted.

Section 8 (2) of the British Waterways Act 1983 entitles CRT to remove an unlicensed boat from the waterway. A Boat Safety Certificate is normally required before a boat can be licensed.

For more information contact: secretariat@bargee-traveller.org.uk

Druidry against shame

One of the repeated themes for me at Druid camp, was the issue of facing down that which is shaming. There’s a world of difference between being ashamed of genuine shortcomings and errors, and quite another having someone shame you. Shaming is a widespread activity. When we are made to feel shame for things we have no control over, or for things that are important to us, when we are shamed by others for our mistakes and shortcomings, humiliation is inevitable. It is a painful, self-reducing process and there is no good in it.

At camp we had naked people. We had the red tent exploring menstruation and other generally unspeakable women’s mysteries. Shaming around bleeding and the female body is widespread. There were stories of people shamed, and of shame resisted.

There is a role for ‘name and shame’ tactics. When people undertake to deliberately do the wrong thing, when there is hypocrisy, when power is corrupt and abusive, then calling it out is important, and there is a place for drawing shame down upon the head of the perpetrator. However, there’s still that difference to hold between recognising an action or behaviour as shameful, and shaming a person. The point at which we say ‘this bad thing is on the inside of you, and you are therefore a bad person’ is a troubling one.

I have learned, in the sharing of stories, that bearing the humiliation of exposure can be very powerful. One of the reasons I have repeatedly put my blood, pain and fear into the public domain is I’ve realised this enables other shamed people to speak up, to acknowledge what has been done, and to make some moves away from being in a state of shame, or pain. The two often run together. It doesn’t help that our culture tends to view acknowledgement of weakness, or injury as shameful. I still find it hard to cry in public. It does not help that professional people have attempted to shame me for weeping.

Today, I heard a story about a brave boater who has put a humiliating letter into other people’s hands, making a stand for justice. The Canal & River Trust habitually sends out the kind of letters that shame recipients. For a proud and independent soul, being told to go and get council housing when you shouldn’t need it, is shaming. Putting that in the public domain, feels humiliating, but I’m going to raise my hand and say, me too. I had one of those. I was told that the home I had paid for would be taken from me and that I would have to go and apply for council housing. And the shame of it burned deeply. That shame keeps us silent, afraid of what will happen if we draw further attention to the way in which we’ve already been humiliated.

Shaming only holds power if we let it do so. As soon as you can face it down, meeting the eyes of the aggressor and refusing to be humiliated into silence, then shaming ceases to be a weapon someone can use against you. Refusing to be shamed for who we are, what we are, for our natural bodies, for our hopes, beliefs, ideas and dreams is not an easy choice. It is far simpler to accept being slapped down, and not to fight it, and invite further ridicule and harassment. It is also a way of having bits of you cut off.

I am going to learn not to be ashamed of my body. I am not going to allow bullies to humiliate me into silence. I’ll keep saluting those other brave souls who show their wounds publically so that others know they are not alone.

Why canals are so important

Writing as a Druid for other Druids (mostly) I hardly need explain the spiritual and environmental importance of rivers. We know about that. Canals are a whole other thing, and I think it’s worth taking some time to talk about why they matter.

The canals in the UK were constructed right at the beginning of the industrial revolution, when roads were little more than tracks, and horses still dominated them. The canals allowed easier movement of the coal and ore necessary to start the revolution, building the engines that would later put the canals out of business. Horses towed the first narrowboats before the technology for such engines had been imagined.

The canals themselves are stunning feats of engineering and a tribute to the ingenuity of our ancestors. They were bought and paid for in the blood, pain and death of the many navies who dug them with hand tools. That’s a heritage I think needs recognising. Their coming changed the landscape dramatically, and allowed a previously unthinkable movement of goods.

From the first, people living on boats had no ethnic affiliation, they came to work, and came out of need and poverty. This is a tradition modern boaters uphold – we live and work on the canals, sometimes very closely with the waterways, and we tend to do it because, like our ancestors of tradition, this is what we can afford.

The UK has lost a frightening amount of wetland in the last hundred years or so. Canals are not an ideal substitute, because the water tends not to flow, and the banks aren’t ideal for a lot of wildlife. Even so, many water birds use them, and the areas around them. Kingfishers, bats, owls, herons. The towpath is often a toad path on wet summer nights. Swans and ducks breed here, water voles can survive here in the right spots. From an environmental management perspective, canals are also huge water reservoirs, able to contribute to the management of either too much or too little water, depending on what climate change throws at us.

There is a huge urban heritage of canal buildings. In cities, canals and towpaths are green arteries, allowing wildlife to get around. Isolated populations of wildlife are doomed. Those that are connected can survive and thrive. Canals have a huge part to play in this. The towpath provides space for insects and may well have a hedge alongside it, too, this is a vital resource. The towpath is a safe place for walking, running and cycling, usable in most weather conditions. It’s possible to canoe on many canals as well. The scope for exercise and relaxation is a significant consideration – canals are good for human health.

Transport by boat is quieter and more efficient than putting lorries on the road. We could reinvent the canal system as a greener solution to transport. Bristol has boat buses, taking advantage of its waterways. Many urban areas are basing much needed regeneration around canals. It’s so easy to make an attractive, vibrant urban area when you have controlled water in the mix.

The canals are a fabulous and important resource, and there is so much scope for good here. If Canal & River Trust get things right, they could make an enormous positive contribution to the life, health, culture, heritage, and environment of the UK. In all fairness, there are a lot of good projects out there, but those should be entirely what CRT is about. This is one of the reasons it is so important that the charity stops wasting public money and time monitoring how far boaters move, and gets on with looking after the water voles and re-opening derelict canals.

An Open Letter to the Canal & River Trust

I doubt you will read this, but hundreds of other people will, and that matters to me. Nonetheless, in the hopes my words might get through, these are the things I wish to say to you. I am tired of being passed from one CRT person to another, my questions unanswered, my complaints not dealt with. I am tired of feeling like I’m being kicked into the long grass. I am heartily sick of your institutional arrogance, your attitude to boaters, and I find much of what you do an affront.

I consider it an obscenity that a British charity has the power to cause homelessness, and that you threaten people with homelessness, disgusts me. You have the legal right to do this, but that does not give you a moral justification, in my book. I am deeply offended that you use public money to fund your enforcement department and no doubt your court actions designed to relieve people of their homes. Your website, canalrivertrust.org makes no mention of this. Every penny, according to you, is spent on the kind of environmental and heritage work a generous public might be willing to fund. I wonder what would happen if we started putting your enforcement notices in the public domain. I wonder if people would give you money if they knew how you spend it. I wonder if corporate sponsors will want to take you on, if they know about the work enforcement does. How long will it be before the media takes up the story ‘charity causes homelessness’? Have you got your statements ready for those interviews?

How about lovely Brian Blessed, your public face and ardent supporter? Have you let him read enforcement letters? Do you think he’ll feel good about those? Is he going to keep throwing his weight behind the charity that makes people homeless?
You are not fair or even handed in how you run enforcement. It is discernibly not about the good of the canal. Boaters who pay for moorings, and who do not live on their boats, seem to get way with overstaying. Live-aboard boaters are harassed for far less. You don’t police the speed limits on the canal; large, expensive boats can put up waves of a foot or more in height and you won’t bother them, probably because the boat owners are wealthy. Enforcement is simply about getting more money out of people who live on their boats. There is nothing charitable about your enforcement department.

You have made me sick with anxiety over the last few years. Your ill-founded threats, the last one of which had no discernible legal basis whatsoever, are no way to treat people. I believe in service, I actively support charities and always will. You had the chance to view me as both a valuable customer, and a potential future supporter, and you blew that, with me and a great many other boaters too. You forget that every person you send unpleasant letters to, has friends, family, colleagues. You forget that we can put our letters in other people’s hands, and tell the stories of our experiences to people who will not be giving you money either. You forget that boat dwellers are people.

If I could afford to sell my boat for scrap metal, I would do so, for the simple pleasure of denying you the boat license money and mooring fees from some future owner. Customer services? I don’t think so. Public relations? Not in any reality I’ve ever visited. The charity that makes people homeless is not one that I will ever support, and as that label comes to stick to you, I think you’ll find the warm-hearted, charity givers in the general populous won’t send their money your way, and that corporations won’t want to associate themselves with the kind of public reputation you will soon have. The charity that makes people homeless is not going to be financially viable, because you cannot squeeze enough money out of boaters to compensate yourselves for what your own actions will inevitably do to your finances.

Or, you could stop spending public money on enforcement, let the police and local authorities handle those rare problem cases, and do something good with the money this will save you. Make those changes, and you may be in with a chance.