On 14th September 2016 Canal & River Trust (CRT), together with police, bailiffs and a CRT enforcement officer, seized a boat without a home mooring that was a vulnerable woman’s home while she was asleep inside it. The woman, who suffers from epilepsy, was later rushed to hospital in an ambulance as the stress of the eviction had caused her condition to become critical.
Boat dweller Peter John Wells, who was an eyewitness, filmed the eviction. It is on YouTube here
Mr Wells said: “On the morning of September 14th Corrine Rotherham, CRT Enforcement Officer, and a team of seven private contractors set off in a vessel from Bradford on Avon on the Kennet and Avon Canal. They were on a mission to evict a lone woman living on a boat in Bath due to a licence dispute. They arrived as she was still asleep in bed, boarded the boat and proceeded to attach their boat to hers and tow it away. A number of nearby boaters were alerted to the situation and a blockade was formed preventing the removal. The boaters offered to pay any outstanding money due on the spot. This was not accepted”.
“Ms Rotherham decided her plan had gone seriously wrong and called for back-up, in this case four police officers and a police van with an unknown number of officers inside. By this time the woman, who suffers from epilepsy, was so distraught that she was reduced to tears. At one point she was surrounded by CRT, bailiffs and police officers against the railway wall. Despite support from the other boaters she felt she had to escape the situation and she agreed to leave her boat. Her boat was taken to Bradford on Avon, lifted on a lorry and driven away. Two days later she was admitted to hospital as the stress o the eviction had caused her epilepsy to become critical”.
Before being taken to hospital the woman wandered around Bath in a confused and distressed state. According to staff at a drop-in centre for homeless people, she was so ill that she was incoherent and could not explain what had happened. The following day she was found by police and an ambulance was called.
The eviction of this vulnerable boater and its drastic effect on her health raise some very serious questions about CRT’s compliance with the law regarding the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. For example, why was there no welfare officer present? Why were the police called? Why did Enforcement Officer Corrine Rotherham not want to be filmed?
CRT’s Relationship Manager Matthew Symonds claimed on 22nd September that the Waterways Chaplaincy had been supporting the woman, but the Chaplaincy has confirmed that they were not involved at all prior to the eviction. CRT did refer the case to their Welfare Officer Sean Williams, but unlike social housing, CRT has no measures in place to safeguard vulnerable people in cases where health issues mean that the person at risk of eviction does not engage with the authorities. We have been informed that the boater attempted to claim Housing Benefit.
According to Mr Wells, it was apparent from his conversation with them that the bailiffs, police and Ms Rotherham all wanted to avoid any responsibility for the eviction. He said that one bailiff was clearly uncomfortable and another said that it was ridiculous and tried to distance himself from his job.
CRT currently uses bailiffs from a private company called The Sheriffs Office when they believe that a boat dweller will be resident on a boat at an eviction. Kevin George Thomas of The Sheriffs Office appears to be one of the bailiffs in the first photo. The second photo shows Mr Thomas serving court papers on a boater in 2014. Kevin Thomas used to work for Sherlock, a trading division of Shergroup Limited, which also included Sherforce bailiffs that CRT used until about 2014.
We have unconfirmed reports that the woman was renting the boat but the “landlord” failed to licence it. Anyone in this situation should make sure that the boat is licensed and should also be aware that they have very few rights.