Soldier’s fight may end in jail

A veteran soldier who stopped paying his council tax "on principle" said yesterday that he would rather go to jail than settle his debts. Richard Fitzmaurice, 74, claims he is prepared to go behind bars in his crusade against West Norfolk Council and what he sees as their "total misuse" of public funds.

A veteran soldier who stopped paying his council tax "on principle" said yesterday that he would rather go to jail than settle his debts.

Richard Fitzmaurice, 74, claims he is prepared to go behind bars in his crusade against West Norfolk Council and what he sees as their "total misuse" of public funds.

The great-grandfather, from Heacham, near Hunstanton, has not paid council tax since April and told the EDP he would not honour a court order for the entire year's bill of almost £1300, which could ultimately land him in prison.

Dressed in a pinstripe suit and accompanied by his daughter, Sally, Fitzmaurice expressed his steadfast views in a liability hearing before King's Lynn magistrates.

He said he could afford the monthly bill of around £130 but felt it unfair that pensioners struggle when council leader John Dobson used taxpayers' money to pay off £23,000 in legal costs earlier this year.

Catherine Saunders, the council's revenues officer, said they had sent a letter last month to warn that he would be liable for the entire bill if he did not settle his arrears.

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When Fitzmaurice protested that he did not think the system was fair, chairman of the bench Norman Jelliman said: "You have to realise the council is dealing with thousands of people.

"If everyone didn't pay their council tax when they should it would cause so much chaos. They have to have rules.

"The council, I am sure, are willing to negotiate… are you willing to pay the arrears?" he asked Fitzmaurice, who replied "no".

Magistrates granted the council's request for a liability notice for £1298 to be paid within 14 days, plus £60 in court costs.

The former soldier with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps spoke to the EDP after the hearing and said he was determined not to settle the debt.

"I will have to go to jail - let them keep me in for a few days," he said. Once I go to jail the case is over and then I will pay, but I will go to jail just to show my protest is real.

He said the last straw was when he read in February about the leader of the council, John Dobson.

Tory leader Mr Dobson hired a £250-an-hour lawyer after an opposing councillor made a complaint of misconduct to the Standards Board for England.

Labour's David Berry believed he had used his position to extend an assistant chief executive's contract, but the case was overturned by Mr Dobson's legal team.