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Judge hands defendant suspended eight month prison sentence for contempt of court amid ten allegations of breaching planning injunctions in caravan parking case

A man found to have committed 10 contempts of court by parking caravans on a site in Cheshire East Borough Council’s area has been handed an eight months prison sentence, suspended for two years.

Mr Justice Turner, sitting in the High Court in Manchester, suspended the sentence because the offender Michael Maloney is already in prison on an unrelated matter and his release date is not known.

Giving judgment in Cheshire East Borough Council v Maloney [2021] EWHC 1156 (QB), Turner J said: “Mr Maloney's repeated disobedience of the orders of this court persisted over a period of weeks; his breaches were calculated and planned; his conduct has given rise to considerable and wholly foreseeable concern and anxiety on the part of the residents of the area in which his breaches occurred; he has shown little remorse and has lost the credit to which he would have been entitled had he admitted any or all of the allegations which I have found to have been proved against him.”

Only an eight months custodial sentence would suffice, Turner J said. He noted though that Mr Maloney’s release date from his current prison term was unknown and that section 225 of the Sentencing Act 2020 did not allow him to impose a sentence to run from when Mr Maloney would otherwise be released.

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“It follows that an immediate sentence of imprisonment would inevitably involve an unsatisfactory element of random impact depending on the wholly unrelated contingency of his notional release date relating to the offence in respect of which his licence was revoked,” the judge said.

He also took note of the impact of Covid-19 on prison inmates and a statement from Mr Maloney’s wife about the affect of his imprisonment on their family.

Turner J said: “The condition of suspension is that Mr Maloney will obey the terms of the injunction granted over the next two years. If within that period he is in breach of those terms or any of them the committal order is liable to be activated.”

Mr Maloney must also pay Cheshire East’s costs with £25,000 on account due within 28 days.

His offences concern land at Mobberley which he bought in August 2019 and gradually populated with his extended traveller family.

“The word disappointment does not fully reflect the strength of local antipathy to this development,” the judge said.

Cheshire East secured an ex parte interim injunction from Farby J on 13 August 2020 and inter partes from Cockerill J on 1 September 2020.

Turner J said that when considering the contempts, “I must observe that Mr Maloney did himself no favours in the witness box".

He added: “When faced with questions the answers to which he undoubtedly knew were important he repeatedly obfuscated. In some instances, he flatly refused to answer questions even where those answers were plainly relevant to the issues in the case. His mien was, at times, one of hostile resentment and left me with no doubt that he was a man used to getting his own way. I did not find his evidence to be reliable and, save where corroborated from other sources, it fell to be treated with caution.”

The judge said the central question was whether a long-term injunction should limit the site to the eight caravans that were present at the time of the ex-parte injunction or the 13 present by the time the matter came before Cockerill J.

Despite Cheshire East’s admitted failure to meet the assessed need of travellers in accordance with its local plan strategy, Turner J said: “I am entirely satisfied that it would be wrong to countenance the continued presence of the five additional caravans.

“There is a strong public interest in ensuring that orders of the court are obeyed and that, all other things being equal, disobedience to such orders are not thereafter deployed to forensic advantage.”

Mark Smulian

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