Bailiff, woman to pay $75k for illegally demolishing home

Justice Frank Seepersad. FILE PHOTO -
Justice Frank Seepersad. FILE PHOTO -

A TOBAGO woman and a licenced bailiff have been ordered by a High Court judge to compensate the owners of a house in Argyle, Tobago, after they were found to have trespassed on the property.

In ordering Natasha Noel and Caleb Phillip to pay Harvey Alexander and his wife Marion Thomas-Alexander damages amounting to $75,000, Justice Frank Seepersad also ordered that his judgment be sent to the Attorney General to determine if Phillip’s bailiff licence should be revoked.

He said bailiffs do not have the legal authority to break down the homes of anyone or throw out their belongings.

“We do not live in the wild, wild west and, notwithstanding the evident dysfunction in many areas of national life, this court will jealously defend the rule of law and protect the rights of citizens.

“This court finds that the defendants’ actions were oppressive, inhumane, uncivilised, brutish and unwarranted.”

The Alexanders filed the lawsuit after the incident on November 4, 2017, when Noel and Phillip, along with police, entered the house. Goods were removed, the bed broken down and the house demolished.

At the time, Alexander was in Trinidad while his wife was home alone. Their belongings were left in the yard and on the street, and they had to occupy a shed on the property.

Seepersad said witnessing her home being unlawfully broken down and having her belongings left under the open skies must have been dehumanising traumatising and embarrassing for Thomas-Alexander.

The house was owned by Alexander who sold it to Noel’s father in July 1997. It was agreed that the $18,000 would be paid before November 30, 1997. However, Noel died before paying the full amount and Alexander, in 2000, took possession of the house and had been living in it until the incident. She also claimed her father had applied for regularisation of the land and for electricity and water connections before he died.

Noel claimed her father was the bona fide tenant of the property but admitted they entered the house to evict the Alexanders. She also claimed it was Thomas-Alexander and her daughter and son-in-law who packed their belongings in garbage bags, putting them on the side of the road.

Phillip then broke down the outer walls of the house. He said he was acting on instructions from Noel to demolish a wooden structure on her property.

In his findings, the judge said since Noel’s father died without a will and his son was appointed executor, the eviction was not sanctioned since the son was not a party to the proceedings.

He said Noel did not establish any grant to her father’s estate and could not lawfully act on its behalf. He said the Alexanders' claim of trespass was maintained.

“On the evidence, and bearing in mind that the first defendant acted on her own behalf and not for the deceased’s estate, it cannot be said she had a better right to possession.

“The events which unfolded on November 4, 2017, were brutish, unlawful uncivilised and amounted to an egregious act of trespass.”

On Phillip’s actions as bailiff, he said they were creatures of statute and must discharge their duties strictly within the ambit of their statutory authority.”

He said they had no general authority to demolish structures.

“For far too long, too many bailiffs have abused and disadvantaged citizens and this must stop.”

Seepersad also said the police service also needed to ensure that officers only accompany bailiffs when it is clear the latter is acting in accordance with the law.

“The police must ensure that they are not used in an attempt to legitimise unlawful activity.”

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