Pause in action against grandmother

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Published: Friday 2nd January 2015 by The News Editor

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An assurance has been given that a 52-year-old grandmother who fears being sent back to jail over council tax debts will face no further legal action – for the time being.

Carla Buckle was released from prison just in time to spend Christmas with her family.

An online campaign for her release went viral, saying she was struggling to live on a low income as a carer on a zero-hours contract, earning just £7 an hour for around 25 hours a week.

Mrs Buckle, from Newbury, Berkshire, was prosecuted by West Berkshire Council for failing to pay over £3,000 in council tax.

She was jailed at Reading Magistrates’ Court on November 18 last year for eight weeks and was freed on bail from HMP Bronzefield in Surrey just 48 hours before Christmas as she took steps to seek a High Court judicial review.

She is arguing that the way she was arrested and jailed was procedurally flawed and unlawful.

Today a council spokesman said no further action would be taken against her “until the outcome of the appeal hearing in the High Court is known”.

However the spokesman warned: “We have not said that we will take no further action full stop.”

Earlier this week Mrs Buckle came to London’s High Court seeking an injunction to prevent the council attempting to jail her again pending her legal challenge.

Bradley Knight, who acted as a McKenzie friend and helped her make her injunction application, told a judge there was a danger that the local authority could seek new committal orders against her for other alleged council tax debts.

Mr Knight said: “She is at risk. There is an enthusiasm on the part of the council to deal with Mrs Buckle which is unfair and prejudiced. There is an appetite for re-imprisoning her.”

Refusing to grant an injunction, Mrs Justice Patterson said there was no evidence that the council was “champing at the bit” to send her back to prison.

The judge said: “Mrs Buckle is out on bail as a result of a court order. There is nothing to suggest that she will be anything other than on bail until the judicial review process has been determined.

“If things change, that is a different matter. Feel free to come back (to court). But at present there is nothing to support your application.”

Speaking at the time Mrs Buckle was jailed, Alan Law, the council’s executive member for finance, said it was only the second time that the authority had been granted a custodial sentence for non payment of council tax.

“However, we are all obliged to pay council tax to cover the cost of numerous essential services and it is totally unfair for some people to think that this shared responsibility does not apply to them.”

Mr Law added: “I hope that this sentence gives a clear message that expecting others to pay will not be tolerated.”

But a campaigner for Mrs Buckle’s release from prison said: “She’s not a criminal… She’s on a zero-hours contract, she’s a carer. She gets £7 an hour… What we had here was somebody who didn’t have the means to pay.”

Published: Friday 2nd January 2015 by The News Editor

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